ST. PETERSBURG — It was a zany Saturday night at Tropicana Field for the Red Sox in which they didn’t get a hit for nine innings but were somehow one strike away from winning until Trevor Story made a throwing error and Kevin Kiermaier smashed a walk-off, two-run blast that gave the Rays a 3-2 win in 10 innings.
Though the loss was painful in the moment, there was a big-picture development that should bode well for the Red Sox not just for this season, but for the next several.
Garrett Whitlock, a dominant force in Boston’s bullpen since the opening of the 2021 season, finally got a chance to start. And he seized the opportunity with a lights-out performance.
In four shutout innings, Whitlock stifled the Rays, allowing one hit and no walks while striking out seven. He was machine-like, throwing just 48 pitches.
“I try and stay in a rhythm,” Whitlock said. “Obviously as a pitcher you try and dictate that and everything. I’m just always trying to attack the zone, and that has kind of been my key.”
Until Saturday, the Red Sox had used Whitlock in every conceivable role except for the one he was groomed for during his time as a Minor Leaguer with the Yankees.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Whitlock. “I hadn’t done it in an actual game since 2019, so it was kind of fun to get back doing that again.”
A matter of when and not if Whitlock would eventually start for the team that plucked him from those Yankees in the Rule 5 Draft, the power righty was pinpoint when he got his chance. Of the 23 swings Whitlock induced, he generated 11 whiffs.
Every time the Rays blinked, they were behind in the count. In fact, anyone who did blink might have missed the bottom of the third inning, in which Whitlock threw six pitches.
“He’s amazing. Just attacking,” said Story. “That’s why he’s him. He’s a really good pitcher and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Making the might even more fun for Whitlock was a cheering section that included his mother, father, brother and grandmother.
“It was really special for them to be here,” said Whitlock.
While it certainly seems reasonable to project Whitlock as a starter for the long term, the Red Sox are still formulating their plan with him for this season.
Whitlock got this start because Tanner Houck will have to miss his next turn in the rotation due to not being vaccinated and the Red Sox playing in Toronto. It’s unclear if he will go back to the ‘pen or start again in five days.
The debate for the Red Sox is if they need Whitlock more in the rotation or the bullpen. In his first 51 MLB appearances, Whitlock has a 1.76 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a .590 OPS.
“Any situation you put him in, he’s who he is,” said Red Sox acting manager Will Venable. “He’s calm and collected. Was just the same today. Just in a different role. But same Garrett.”
One thing Whitlock won’t do is try to influence the team’s decision.
“I always say they make those decisions. They get paid for those decisions. That’s not my job to do,” said Whitlock. “I’ll go out there and throw until they come and take the ball away from me.”
The game definitely moves at a quick pace when Whitlock has it going.
“He’s got a special arm and a good demeanor on the mound and he’s fun to play behind,” said Red Sox first baseman Bobby Dalbec.
Story: ‘Just a bad throw’
After Friday night’s 4-3 win by the Red Sox, all the talk was about Story and his brilliant defense, including a great play that ended the game.
Story had a chance to close it out again on Saturday when he went down on one knee to field a grounder by Taylor Walls with two outs and two strikes in the bottom of the 10th. This time, his throw sailed wide right on Dalbec, giving Kiermaier a chance to be the hero.
“We’ve asked not to hit it to Story anymore, but maybe it worked out. KK really picked us up,” said Kevin Cash.
For Story, who has prided himself on playing stellar defense during his slow start at the plate, it was a tough error to swallow.
“Just a bad throw. I probably had a little more time than I thought. It’s on me. That’s all on me, for sure,” said Story. “That throw’s got to be made every single time in my book.”