NEW YORK — Garrett Whitlock’s last game in the Yankees organization was on July 3, 2019. He was the starting pitcher for Double A Trenton at Portland.
The righthander allowed nine runs on eight hits over five innings. Only three of the runs were earned, but it was clear something was wrong. Whitlock had a torn elbow ligament and underwent Tommy John surgery later that month. That led to the Yankees leaving Whitlock off their 40-man roster after the 2020 season and the Red Sox selecting him in the Rule 5 draft.
On Saturday night, Whitlock finally took the mound at Yankee Stadium. But it was to pitch for the Red Sox. In a development befitting the age-old rivalry, the former Yankee beat the Yankees for his first major league victory. Whitlock pitched 1⅔ innings of scoreless relief as the Red Sox took the second game of the series, 7-3.
“It’s amazing, huh? That’s how life works and how baseball is,” Sox manager Alex Cora said.
Whitlock didn’t say anything to the coaches, but he was definitely hoping to pitch at the Stadium this weekend. He was smiling widely afterward.
“It was a lot of fun to finally get there,” Whitlock said.
But wait, it gets even better.
Bobby Dalbec hit a two-run homer off Whitlock in his final game for the Yankees. This time Dalbec backed him with a two-run homer to center field in the eighth inning to help put the game away as the Sox scored four runs to break open a 3-3 game. Whitlock’s roommate in Double A, Brooks Kriske, pitched the ninth inning for the Yanks.
Worlds colliding everywhere.
After taking the lead, the Red Sox turned to another former Yankees righthander, Adam Ottavino, to pitch the eighth inning. He needed only 11 pitches to get three outs.
The Yankees traded Ottavino to the Sox in January, wanting to shed his $9 million salary. The Sox also landed 23-year righthander Frank German, a prospect now pitching for Portland.
Maybe Yankees general manager Brian Cashman will send the Sox some other good pitchers later this summer. They’ve lost three straight and nine of 12.
Whitlock has appeared in 15 games and allowed only five earned runs over 27⅔ innings while striking out 29.
Saturday was his biggest challenge to date. With the Sox leading 3-2, Whitlock came out of the bullpen in the sixth inning with runners on first and third and one out.
Gleyber Torres tied the game with a sacrifice fly to right field, but Whitlock stranded the tying run by striking out Chris Gittens, a former Trenton teammate making his major league debut.
“The situation kind of helped me focus just on the game,” Whitlock said. “Because if I had let other things dictate that it could have gotten bad. I was just focused on getting outs.”
Whitlock held the Yankees down in the seventh inning, striking out Miguel Andújar before Gary Sánchez singled to center. Whitlock then located a sinker and Clint Frazier grounded into a double play.
“Whit did an outstanding job,” Cora said. “His stuff was phenomenal. That’s the way we drew it [up].”
Whitlock, who was a starter throughout his minor league career, is still learning how to handle situations like that.
“It’s definitely a different approach coming in as a reliever in that spot,” he said. “If definitely not just attack the strike zone there. You’ve got to be a little bit more careful.”
Whitlock has worked seven scoreless innings in his last four games. Saturday was an indication he’s ready for any spot Cora chooses to put him in.
“We believe his stuff plays,” Cora said. “This is a guy we can use in high-leverage situations … this is a guy we can trust.”
Over the long term, Whitlock profiles as a starter. But that’s unlikely to happen until next year. With this being his first season back from surgery, the Sox will be careful with Whitlock.
Besides, he’s a big weapon in the bullpen.
“This kid, since Day 1 he’s been great for us,” Cora said. “I keep saying it, we’re very proud of him.”