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Red Sox 8, Braves 2: Tanner Houck ends his season in style

And Christian Vázquez led the way at the plate.

Boston Red Sox v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Those who are upset with the Red Sox picking up a win on Saturday to hurt their 2021 draft position can take stock in the fact that the biggest reason they got the win was a big part of their future. Tanner Houck was on the mound for his third and final start of 2020 for this game, looking to build off two highly impressive outings. He sure did that. His slider was as nasty as we’ve seen and while he did give up his first earned run of the year, that was all he gave up. The righty worked his way out of trouble a couple times and straight-up dominated a wildly talented Braves lineup at other times, striking out ten batters over the course of his stellar six-inning start. The Red Sox offense, meanwhile, needed only one inning to score their eighth run, as they did it all in the second. That inning was punctuated by a Christian Vázquez grand slam, which was one of three hits for the catcher on the day.

Overall the biggest positive for the Red Sox this season has been Alex Verdugo, who was the team’s best player pretty much wire-to-wire. But despite only getting three starts, Tanner Houck quickly made his way up that list and it’s really hard to deny the talent. he made his third and final start of the year on Saturday and got his biggest test. While the Yankees sat a couple key bats in their matchup his last time out, the Braves, who have a ton of talent themselves, put everyone out there. There was nowhere to hide for the Red Sox rookie here. He was going to have to bring it.

And bring it he did. Even beyond the numbers and impressive pitches, which we’ll obviously get to, what stood out was how much he was willing to attack and trust his stuff against some of the biggest names in the sport. That was on display right away when he went out and fired fastballs in the zone into Ronald Acuña Jr. If you’ll recall, he hit one almost 500 feet to start Friday’s game. That didn’t scare off Houck, who got the strikeout to kick off his outing. Next up was Freddie Freeman, one of the three best left-handed hitters in the game, and Houck got a ground out. Marcell Ozuna did get on with a single, but that was it as Houck got Travis d’Arnaud swinging to end the inning unscathed.

Boston Red Sox v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

He kept rolling after that. After a long top of the second — we’ll get to that in a few — that saw Houck having to sit for an extended period of time, it was fair to be a little concerned with how he may come out in the bottom of the inning. All he did was strike out all three batters who came to the plate. Ho hum. He followed that up with another 1-2-3 inning in the third, this one with a single strikeout to give him six through three.

In the fourth, we started to see some cracks from the Red Sox righty for the first time in the game. Freeman worked a four-pitch walk to lead things off, and Ozuna worked a walk of his own to put the first two on. After Houck started the next at bat off with two straight balls, it looked like me might unravel. Instead, Dave Bush came out, calmed down the rookie, and Houck got two strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning with his shutout still intact.

He entered the fifth not only with a shutout going, but also still not having allowed an earned run at all this year. The streak ended right away in that inning. Dansby Swanson led things off for the Braves and jumped on a bad slider for a solo shot, upping Houck’s ERA to a sky-high 0.60. That was followed by a base hit, and again it was a chance for Houck to unravel. Again, he reversed course with a strikeout and a double play to navigate any potential issues yet again.

The righty had one more inning in him with the heart of the Braves order starting things off. He issued another walk to Freeman to lead things off, but then got three straight outs to finish off his night. In all, he got through six strong innings with just the one run on three hits, three walks and ten strikeouts. Just an incredible end to an incredible stretch to start his career.

On the other end, the Red Sox got a ton of runs and only really needed one inning to do it. They were going up against a rookie in Tucker Davidson who was making his major-league debut. The southpaw was impressive in the first with a 1-2-3 inning. The second wasn’t so impressive. Boston got the rally going with a one-out walk from Jackie Bradley Jr., which brought Bobby Dalbec to the plate. He did what he does, which is to say the Red Sox took a two-run lead on one swing which happened to be the rookie’s eighth homer of the year. They’d load up the bases after that on an error, a single and a walk before Rafael Devers hit a ground ball to shortstop. Swanson bobbled what should have been an inning-ending double play, and the inning continued with a run coming across and only one out being recorded at second. Xander Bogaerts made it 4-0 with a base hit and then J.D. Martinez re-loaded the bases with a walk. That brought Christian Vázquez to the plate, and he started what was a hell of a night. This was his biggest swing, bringing everyone home including himself with a grand slam. Just like that, it was an 8-0 ballgame.

The Red Sox weren’t able to add any more to their total over the next five innings either, and the score was 8-1 as Houck was leaving and Austin Brice was coming in to start the bottom of the seventh. This was his first appearance off the injured list, and he looked good in a scoreless inning. The righty did issue a two-out walk, but that was all.

The eighth belonged to Phillips Valdez, but he wasn’t able to come through with a clean inning. The righty gave up a double to Freeman with one out, but was almost able to get out of it from there. With two outs, d’Arnaud ripped a line drive right back up the middle that ricocheted off Valdez’s leg. Fortunately, he was okay, but he had to rush a throw to first and it got away, allowing Freeman to score and make it an 8-2 game. He followed the error up with a strikeout to end the inning.

That just left the ninth, which belonged to another guy who just came off the IL in Andrew Triggs. He was able to toss a scoreless frame, allowing a single but nothing else to finish out the win.

The Red Sox have just one game left tomorrow afternoon. They’ll have Nick Pivetta going for the finale while the Braves counter with Bryse Wilson taking the mound for Atlanta. That game, like all others around the league tomorrow, starts at 3:10 PM ET.


Courtesy of FanGraphs