Top-5 Red Sox pitching performances from the 2021 season

Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
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Red Sox starter Tanner Houck
BOSTON, MA – APRIL 3: Tanner Houck #89 of the Boston Red Sox delivers during the first inning of a game against the Baltimore Orioles on April 3, 2021 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

Red Sox pull Tanner Houck during quest for perfection

It takes guts for a manager to give his starting pitcher the hook in the midst of a perfect game but that’s exactly what Alex Cora did following five flawless innings from Tanner Houck against the Washington Nationals.

Houck didn’t allow a runner to reach base against him during his final regular season appearance. The only ball that left the infield was a harmless fly to right field in the third inning. Houck struck out eight, including three of the first four batters he faced.

The decision to remove Houck during a perfect game was naturally controversial but it was also reasonable under the circumstances. The rookie lasted longer than five innings only once all season, a 5 1/3 inning effort that he lost in Cleveland back in August. The Red Sox were extremely cautious when it came to allowing Houck to face an opposing lineup for a third time in a game.

Houck spent most of September working out of the bullpen. While his pitch count seemed modest at the time he was pulled against the Nationals, his 56 pitches were the most he had thrown in over two weeks.

One of the unwritten rules of baseball is that you don’t talk about a no-hitter or perfect game when a pitcher is in the middle of tossing one. You certainly don’t take him out of a game he’s dominating to that extent. This was an exception. Houck’s season high pitch count was 90, which he hadn’t reached since August. There was essentially zero chance that he was going to last a full nine innings to have a chance at a perfect game.

This start came in the second-to-last game of the regular season in a must-win game to keep Boston’s playoff hopes alive. The Red Sox were clinging to a one-run lead with Houck due up to lead off the sixth inning in the National League park. Cora called for a pinch-hitter hoping to spark some offense that would put this game out of reach. It didn’t work out, as Christian Arroyo struck out in place of Houck and the Red Sox wasted a golden opportunity with a pair of runners on base when Rafael Devers flew out to end the scoreless inning.

The offense finally came alive with a four-run ninth inning and the bullpen managed to hang on for the win. Houck didn’t get credit for the victory since Washington had tied the game in the eighth inning with a sacrifice fly from Juan Soto. The deep fly to center nearly left the park so Austin Davis was lucky that Soto didn’t clear the bases with a backbreaking grand slam. Instead, Davis managed to escape the jam just in time for his offense to wake up, allowing him to vulture the win.