Boston Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck remains unvaccinated, per manager Alex Cora. He will not be with the team next week against the Blue Jays.

Houck’s failure to get the COVID-19 vaccine has been highly-publicized, as it has been with most athletes who made a similar decision. His health is his choice, surely, and by no means does this article suggest he should be forced to undergo any treatment against his will.

However, it’s also impossible to deny that Houck’s absence — especially as he might be ascending to a closer role for Boston — is untimely. One look at the standings can help explain that.

The Sox are just 2.5 games behind the Jays in the AL East standings, and thus the Wild Card. Houck was quoted before the year as saying he would do anything to help his team win. Anything, evidently, does not include the COVID-19 vaccine.

And it’s an important qualifier to mention.

Red Sox: Tanner Houck emerges as closer candidate

Since June 10, all four of Houck’s appearances have been save opportunities, rather than in a starting role. His teammates appear to support this decision, even though Cora has yet to make it official.

“He looks comfortable,” Christian Vázquez told NESN. “I think he looked very good right there. He’s got nasty stuff and I think he’s going to help a lot this season.”

Houck’s development is important for several reasons. First and foremost, Boston needs a closer, and bullpen help in general. Houck provides that and more. Second, and most relevant in this scenario, is that the Sox will be without an essential bullpen piece as they head to Toronto.

Considering the playoff format and the success level of both teams in a crowded AL, is it really that farfetched to think Boston may have to face Toronto on the road with a playoff spot on the line, at some point? At the very least, a critical series late in the season looms.

Houck will not be there.

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