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Dan Shaughnessy

These absent anti-vaxxers give Red Sox no shot in Toronto

Red Sox reliever Tanner Houck (above) and Jarren Duran (not pictured) were not with the team for the start of a three-game set vs. the Blue Jays in Toronto because they remain unvaccinated.Mary Schwalm/Associated Press

In this region, Kyrie Irving is routinely mocked and scorned for being a selfish team-killer.

Swell. So how are you all feeling about Kyrie Houck, Kyrie Duran and Kyrie Sale at this hour?

I wonder how Red Sox players really feel? It’s always Hakuna Matata around these Sox with their laundry cart rides, postgame strobelight locker room disco dance parties, and NESN happy talk, but how would you feel if your .327-hitting leadoff batter, your white-hot closer (six saves in six tries), and (possibly) your $30 million per year erstwhile ace chose not to help you win important games in June and (maybe) September/October?

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That was the situation when the scalding-hot Sox arrived in Toronto. The Sox were without rookie outfielder Jarren Duran (four steals in five attempts) and bullpen stopper Tanner Houck, two young stars who have chosen “personal freedom” over helping the team. Both players have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, which makes them ineligible to play in Toronto. They seem to be following the lead of Chris Sale, who’s been on the shelf for two years, but said he was still not vaccinated last time we asked.

It’s unlikely the anti-vaxxers would have made any difference Monday, but the Sox saw their seven-game winning streak snapped in a 7-2 beatdown at the Rogers Centre. The heretofore surging Sox fell to 2-6 against the Blue Jays and 7-15 in the American League East as the Jays pulled to within a half-game of second-place Boston. Sox manager Alex Cora won’t have his starting center fielder or closer for the next two games in Toronto.

Duran has played only 13 games in the Major Leagues this year (46 over two seasons), but was an offensive catalyst when the Sox swept the Guardians in Cleveland over the weekend. He turns 26 in September and is battling to stay in the big leagues, but he says this is a “personal decision” and told MassLive, “I’m still doing my research.’’

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Dr. Google, no doubt.

There was a time when a kid would do anything to get a day in the big leagues. Now the opportunity is dismissed in the name of personal freedom.

The aforementioned Houck made it clear he won’t take the shot, while simultaneously saying, “I’ll do whatever I need to help us win.”

While his teammates are in Toronto, Jarren Duran is back in Boston.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

For what it’s worth, both Duran and Houck clearly don’t have a problem with needles. Both players have more tattoos than Lady Gaga and Harry Styles.

The anti-vax Sox have another minor leaguer, outfielder Ryan Fitzgerald, a former independent leaguer who has clawed his way up to Triple-A Worcester, but told the Globe’s Alex Speier, “If I miss my [big league] shot because of that [no vaccination], it is what it is. I’m not going to think twice about it.”

Boston’s young holdouts have a role model in Sale, who told us last year and again this spring that he is not vaccinated. Sale’s status has yet to be a factor because he had Tommy John surgery in 2020 and broke a rib during rehab over the winter. It will be interesting if nothing changes this summer when Sale presumably will be pitching and the Sox finish their regular season with three games in Toronto on the last weekend of September.

Canada requires any visitors to the country to be vaccinated 14 days before entry. Players who won’t get the shot are not paid for games they miss in Toronto. They are placed on the restricted list and the team is powerless to sanction them. The Red Sox seem to fear embarrassing Sale, and go to great lengths to avoid acknowledging that their tall lefty might not make himself available for important games.

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But what happens if Sale returns to the rotation next month and the rules in Canada don’t change? How’s it going to look if Cora has to align his other starters at the end of September to make sure Sale won’t face Toronto on the final weekend of the regular season (Sale would also be ineligible for potential playoff games in Toronto)?

Everybody okay with this?

It has nothing to do with politics or science. It’s an issue of professional athletes being available to compete. How many of you have jobs where there are no consequences when you choose to make yourself unavailable for work?

Tanner Houck has converted all six of his save opportunities this season.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Yankees took care of the issue in April. All Yankee players did the team thing.

Not the anti-vax Red Sox. The Sox last year were the only one of 10 playoff teams that failed to reach the 85 percent vaccination threshold and now they are a playoff contender that won’t say anything to offend players who care more about personal freedom than their commitment to the team.

Wonder what Ted Williams would think? Williams didn’t talk about his “personal freedom” when he was called to serve his country in World War II and again in the Korean conflict. Williams flew 39 combat missions in Korea and lost almost five seasons of his prime while serving his country.

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Today the Red Sox have players who care more about their personal freedom than helping the team.

Coming into Monday the surging Sox had won seven straight, 11 of 13, and owned an 19-4 record in June. They were a season-high 11 games over .500, winning seven consecutive series.

They fell hard Monday and outfielder Rob Refsnyder, leading off in place of Duran, went 0-4 and flied out to end the game with two aboard in the ninth.

Back in Boston, Houck and Duran are scheduled to work out together Wednesday at Fenway Park.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.