When the ninth inning of Boston’s first-ever Wild Card game rolled around on Tuesday night, Alex Cora had a decision to make.
Should he send out struggling Red Sox closer Matt Barnes and hope that shutting the door in a do-or-die game could reboot his confidence, let a starter end it a la 2018, or opt for the rookie Garrett Whitlock, who had been magnificent all year long?
Cora went with Whitlock, who made his debut at the beginning of April, and had a 1.96 ERA over 46 games. Over 73 1/3 regular-season innings, he had only allowed 16 earned runs, issued 17 walks, and had struck out 81 batters. He held opposing batters hitless in 11 games, scoreless and walk-less in 34, and he never allowed more than two earned runs in a game.
He’d have to face the meat of the order, but Cora knew the young righty was up to the challenge. In six games against the Yankees, Whitlock had clamped down on Yankees batters (and most of MLB), keeping them at a .154/.250/.154 line and .404 OPS. They never managed an extra-base hit off him, and struck out 11 times in 26 at-bats.
But in this storied rivalry, there’s often a deeper meaning to every choice, and Whitlock getting the ninth was no exception.
The Red Sox used former Yankees top prospect, Garrett Whitlock, to close the Wild Card game and end the Yankees season
Less than a year ago, the 25-year-old was a prospect in the Yankees system. In December 2020, the Sox selected him in the Rule 5 draft, stealing a top pitcher from their rivals for the paltry sum of $100,000. The Yankees didn’t value him enough to protect him on the 40-man roster, and in return, he ended their postseason before it could even begin.
From a numbers standpoint, Whitlock was always going to be a great choice to close out a high-stakes game. But for Cora, who shouted “We scored 16 runs in Yankee Stadium, suck on it!” three years ago, there was definitely more to it than that.
In going to Whitlock to close out the game and the Yankees season, the Sox delivered one final blow to their most bitter rivals. It was a reminder that from the front office to the field, Boston had once again out-dueled the Bronx.
How can you not be romantic about baseball?