Houck and Whitlock are this team’s underrated dynamic duo


In the long history of elite Red Sox pitching, only one ever brought home the gold:

Mike Boddicker, who earned the franchise’s first and only Gold Glove to date, in 1990.

But when the Red Sox were in Houston this past week, Garrett Whitlock had his own Gold Glove moment when Alex Bregman popped up on the first pitch of the at-bat, sending the spheroid sky-high into foul territory on the first base side. When Bregman blocked catcher Connor Wong as he attempted to track the ball, Whitlock sprang into action. He raced off the mound and slid, feet-first, to catch the ball by the on-deck circle.

Though Bregman ended up being called out due to batter interference, Whitlock’s tenacity provided viewers with an epic and impressive moment.

But when Whitlock posted the clip to his own Instagram hours later, it was the cheeky caption that caught attention:

“I don’t want to hear any more of this talk about how @tanner_houck11 is more athletic than me.”

Shots fired.

“It’s fine, he can say what he wants,” a smiling Tanner Houck told the Herald. “My response to him immediately after was, ‘I would’ve caught it standing up, I wouldn’t have had to slide,’ but I’ll let him have his little spotlight.”

“It was a great play. Super fun for him, definitely,” he said. “When I saw him in the dugout after, he was waiting for props, and that’s when I gave him that line, and he just looked at me and chuckled a little bit.”

“I mean, I could’ve slid, but wouldn’t have had to. I would’ve gotten there standing up and caught it like a normal person,” Houck added.

For some athletes, these would be fighting words, even a suggestion of strife in the clubhouse, but not these two.

Houck and Whitlock have become very close friends since the latter came to Boston during the 2020-21 offseason. The homegrown Houck debuted the previous fall, but entered 2021 with his rookie eligibility intact. Whitlock made his debut that April 4, so the two have run the Red Sox gauntlet together almost since Day 1.

“Our lockers were together in ‘21, both of us rookies at that time, trying to navigate our first true big-league season,” Houck said. “We were two young guys, so on the road, we’d go to breakfast together and just navigate being big-leaguers up here together, and we’ve stuck with the friendship ever since.”

The two 27-year-old right-handers have both worked in every possible pitching role over the last three years. They even share a birth month, born 18 days apart in June 1996. Houck is also the one who got his teammate hooked on “Ted Lasso,” the uplifting soccer show Whitlock raved about to the Herald earlier this season.

“It’s a great friendship, always fun,” Houck said. “I mean, everyone in here, I consider a brother. We like to all have fun together. It makes coming to work a lot easier.

“Having close friendships like that, they also push you. They’re not afraid to get on you whenever they need to, but they’re also there to pick you up when you need it.”

The two young pitchers have, unfortunately, had extra opportunities to pick one another up these last two seasons. Each had their 2022 campaigns cut short by season-ending injuries, for which they underwent back and hip surgery, respectively. Both have recently returned from stints on the injured list; Houck suffered a fracture when a line drive smashed into his face during a start against the Yankees in mid-June, Whitlock went on the IL two weeks later with elbow inflammation. The latter got back in the game on Aug. 13, and Houck joined him on the 22nd.

“It’s just good to be like, actually back, part of the team,” Houck said. “Being around the clubhouse and being with all the guys is great, and you feel definitely still a part of the team, but knowing you get to go out there and potentially help the team win and keep pushing towards the end of the season, it’s a good feeling.

“I use the phrase ‘a spare part,’ I just feel like an extra bolt, but I knew that the time was coming, that I’d come back, and I would have my shot.”

Houck has worked his way back carefully, determined to have this season end differently than last.

“I wanted to do it the right way, come back 100 percent, and not come back at 80 or 90 percent and have something else go wrong. I’d rather know that whenever I’m back out there, I can give everything I have.

“To come back this season, I never even thought about not finishing it out. I wanted to see the end of the season, end it on a high note, and help the team. It’s really good to be back.”

Jansen throws live bullpen

Kenley Jansen hasn’t pitched since leaving Wednesday’s game after only three pitches with right hamstring tightness, but the closer appears to have avoided serious injury and is trending towards an imminent return. Jansen threw a live bullpen session on Saturday and barring any unexpected setbacks the hope is he could pitch in Sunday’s finale.

“We wanted to increase the intensity. He’s thrown a bullpen and we feel like it’s not enough,” Cora said. “We’ll see how he feels and if everything goes well he’ll be available tomorrow.”

Cora also said outfielder Jarren Duran (left great toe sprain) is scheduled to see a doctor on Monday, so they should have a better idea of his status after that.

Upcoming starters announced

Tanner Houck (3-7, 5.08 ERA) will start Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers, and after that the Red Sox will stick with the same rotation they’ve used over the past week.

Cora announced that Chris Sale (5-3, 4.68) will start Monday’s opener against the Houston Astros, Brayan Bello (10-7, 3.56) will follow him on Tuesday and Kutter Crawford (6-6, 3.65) will pitch Wednesday.

Sox to honor The Base, K-Men

Prior to Sunday’s game the Red Sox will honor The Base and the Boston K Men during pregame ceremonies. The two organizations are celebrating their 10th and 25th anniversaries respectively and members will throw out the first pitch before the series finale against the Dodgers.

The K Men were founded in 1998 when a group of local teenagers started a tradition of posting “K” signs after each of Pedro Martinez’s strikeouts. The group steadily grew in size and remains an active presence at Fenway Park, and in recent years the K Men have partnered with The Base, a Roxbury-based urban academy that provides sports training and other programs geared towards college access and career development.

The Base now serves roughly 1,200 local youth annually, and Red Sox president Sam Kennedy also serves as a member of The Base’s Advisory Committee.

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