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The Red Sox Sure Could’ve Used Tanner Houck In Canada

Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox pitches during the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Fenway Park on June 19, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts.
Sarah Stier/Getty Images|

Pictured: Tanner Houck, pitching somewhere that isn’t Toronto.

The Red Sox were having a fantastic month until they visited Toronto. Until most of the Red Sox visited Toronto, anyway. Every game's consequential when the Yankees lead the division by double-digits, and this week Boston failed to keep pace with New York. And because of how the three-game series against the Blue Jays went down, Tanner Houck's absence was glaringly obvious.

Border restrictions prevent unvaccinated MLB players from entering Canada, so whenever a team has to play a road series in Toronto, a few COVID-vulnerable dummies end up on the restricted list. This week's winners were Houck, who's served as the closer, and speedy outfielder Jarren Duran. An easily preventable situation came back and chomped on the team's collective ass.

The series in Toronto was going to be tough with or without Houck; the two teams are neck-and-neck in the AL East, scrapping for a better wild-card spot. Monday was a pretty definitive 7-2 Blue Jays win; Tuesday was where the closer's presence probably would've changed the game. With Boston holding a 5-4 lead, reliever Tyler Danish pitched a clean eighth inning, and manager Alex Cora kept him in for the bottom of the ninth. Danish hadn't recorded six outs since May 21, and he didn't on Tuesday. He gave up a single to Alejandro Kirk and walked George Springer. Cora replaced Danish with Hansel Robles. Hansel Robles stinks. Bo Bichette tied the game with an RBI single, and Vlad Guerrero Jr. walked it off:

Red Sox fans and media took that opportunity to dump on Houck, and it was entirely deserved. How the hell do you let Dan Shaughnessy land a clean shot? Most of this was targeted at Houck and not Duran, a backup outfielder, but it's obvious why one meant more than the other. Hell, Bobby Dalbec's vaccinated and I still think he shouldn't be allowed in Toronto, or any other major-league stadium for that matter.

On Wednesday, the Red Sox regained a little dignity and won, 6-5, but boy was it tense there at the end. Boston built a 6-3 lead in the top of the 10th and nearly gave it all back in the bottom of the inning. Matt Strahm was the lucky guy who had to pitch two innings this time, and with two outs and the automatic runner on second, the Blue Jays logged three straight hits off him and added two runs. But George Springer popped out and allowed the Red Sox to escape. Would've been nice to have Houck there!

The sad part is that Strahm is one of the better relievers on the team. The recurring theme with this season's Red Sox is the bullpen finding novel ways to blow a lead. John Schreiber and his 0.73 ERA have been excellent, and he's notched a couple of saves, but his main purpose is as a setup guy. After him and Strahm, it gets dire: Jake Diekman walks a lot of batters, Matt Barnes is injured, Hirokazu Sawamura is mostly used in low-leverage situations. The wild card race is incredibly competitive, and the margin of error is thin. This wasn't some kind of unfortunate injury that forced the Red Sox to cobble together the back end of games. It was a deliberate choice by one player, detrimental to the team's success.

What's also frustrating is that it really isn't too late for Houck. Aaron Judge and Andrew Wiggins were averse to the vaccine, but then they got jabbed, and they're doing fine. Judge may win MVP! Wiggins dunked on Luka Doncic's head!

The Red Sox will consider this series a bad break, rather than an unforced error, and move on to the next game. This issue won't come up again for a while, because the team won't have to go back to Toronto until a three-game series from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2. Those could be some pretty consequential games. It sounds like Cora is aware of that and expects changes, without banking on Canada to change its restrictions. "I do believe for September, it’s going to change from our end ... I’ll bet you $1 it’s going to change," he said Wednesday. He'd better be right. The Red Sox are 3-7 against the Blue Jays this season and have a pretty good chance of facing them in the postseason. It would be unfathomably stupid for a professional athlete to voluntarily decrease his team's chances of winning. Well, it'd be unfathomable if it hadn't already happened.

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