Red Sox rally in ninth, beat Cubs 5-4 on Tyler O’Neill walk-off

Tanner Houck has been lights out all season, and it’s getting to the point where you expect him to throw a gem every time he takes the mound. The right-hander delivered on that front once again, shutting down the Chicago Cubs over 6.2 dominant innings.

But while Houck had to settle for a no decision, the Red Sox made sure they went home with a dramatic victory.

After the bullpen coughed up the lead and allowed the Cubs to tie the game, the Red Sox rallied in the bottom of the ninth, with Tyler O’Neill coming through with a walk-off single to win it 5-4.

Leading 4-1 in the top of the eighth, Red Sox reliever Chris Martin allowed three straight hits to start the inning, including a game-tying three-run home run off the bat of Mike Tauchman. That set the stage for a dramatic ninth inning, with Kenley Jansen preserving the tie with a scoreless frame before Jarren Duran led off the bottom of the inning with a walk and Rafael Devers moved him to third on a single the other way.

O’Neill’s blooper to left field would not have been deep enough to score Duran with a sacrifice fly, but Cubs shortstop Dansby Swanson couldn’t make what would have been a difficult catch, allowing Duran to amble home easily for the win.

Before all of that happened, Houck was excellent. The 27-year-old allowed one run on four hits over 6.2 innings with no walks and nine strikeouts. He retired the first 10 batters he faced, and after allowing back to back singles in the top of the fourth, proceeded to mow down the next 10 before running out of gas with two outs in the seventh.

Chicago wound up getting to Houck after he hit Michael Busch and allowed singles to Dansby Swanson and Matt Mervis, the latter of which drove in the Cubs’ only run. Though he departed to a loud ovation with runners at the corners, Martin picked him up by ending the threat with a soft groundout in front of the catcher.

By the time he was finished Houck had thrown 72 of his 95 pitches for strikes, and in the process he drew 16 whiffs and 17 called strikes.

Houck has now pitched into the sixth inning in all six of his starts this season and into the seventh in each of his last three. His ERA now stands at 1.60 over 39.1 innings and he’s struck out 41 on the season, all of which rank among the best in baseball.

Unlike in his last two starts, Houck got some meaningful run support from the Red Sox offense. Boston took the lead right out of the gate after Connor Wong scored Rafael Devers on an RBI single, and Wong drove in Devers again in the third after a bouncing ball up the left side hit the third base bag, leaving Cubs third baseman Christopher Morel with no play and allowing Devers to score easily.

Jarren Duran delivered what felt in the moment like the dagger in the bottom of the sixth, driving a two-run triple into the right field gap.

Houck also benefitted from a spectacular running grab in right field by rookie Wilyer Abreu, who is beginning to make a habit of turning in highlight reel, over-the-shoulder catches. Abreu hauled the ball in off the bat of Dansby Swanson in the top of the fifth, and according to Statcast the ball had an expected batting average of .950 and would have been a home run in 28 of 30 MLB ballparks.

The end result for Boston was a terrific win, which clinched the series against the Cubs and improved the club to 16-13 on the year. The Red Sox are now comfortably ensconced in third place in the AL East ahead of both the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, and they are only three games back of the New York Yankees for first.

The Red Sox will have an off-day on Monday before opening a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday. Cooper Criswell (1-1, 2.38 ERA) is slated to take the mound against Giants ace Logan Webb (3-1, 2.33). First pitch is 7:10 p.m.

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