Red Sox pitcher Tanner Houck is doused with water after pitching a shutout against the Guardians on Wednesday in Boston. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

As Tanner Houck worked later and later into his start on Wednesday night, he knew he was closing in on something special.

But it wasn’t until after he’d finished the first complete game and shutout of his major league career that the right-hander found out he’d just thrown the first Maddux – a complete-game shutout with fewer than 100 pitches, named for Hall of Famer Greg Maddux – by a Red Sox pitcher since Clay Buchholz in August 2014.

“I’d actually never heard of the term,” Houck told the Boston Herald on Thursday morning. “Having the comparison to Maddux and having the statement is truly special.”

The achievement also put him in a unique place in franchise history. Houck’s was only the sixth Maddux ever by a Red Sox pitcher at Fenway; Josh Beckett had two in 2009, joining Derek Lowe (2002), Danny Darwin (1993) and Roger Clemens (1988).

“It’s super cool,” Houck said. “Obviously, this organization is very historic, long history of amazing pitchers. To have an outing like that, truly special.”

Complete games were once a dime a dozen. Cy Young, namesake of MLB’s most prestigious pitching award, holds the all-time record 749 complete games. He averaged 30 such contests per season over his 22-year career with the Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Browns, Red Sox, Cleveland Naps and Boston Braves.


Last season, there were 21 complete-game shutouts in MLB. Framber Valdez and Gerrit Cole were the only pitchers to achieve the feat more than once.

In this era of baseball, complete games are few and far between and complete-game shutouts are even more rare. In 2015, a Maddux was accomplished eight times. There have been no more than four in a season since.

Houck’s outing took only 1 hour, 49 minutes. The Red Sox righty pitched the shortest nine-inning MLB game since June 2, 2010, when Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga came within one out of a perfect game and settled for a one-hitter. Houck’s was also the fastest Maddux completed with at least nine strikeouts since Maddux himself, on Aug. 20, 1995.

Pitcher Tanner Houck allowed three hits, struck out nine and didn’t walk a batter in a complete-game shutout against the Guardians on Wednesday in Boston. Houck threw just 94 pitches, accomplishing the rare, Maddux. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

In a 162-game season, people try not to fixate too much on a single contest, but for Houck, such a game matters in more ways than one, and the accomplishment merits celebration.

First, because of the years of blood, sweat and tears that go into becoming a Major League Baseball player and sustaining a big-league career.

“It’s a lot of time of hard work and many years, months, hours, days, every second of continuing to try and get better and put all the pieces together,” he said.


Doing so requires good health – never guaranteed, especially for pitchers – and an increased understanding of what makes a player the best version of himself on the mound.

“I feel 100 percent healthy and my body control, my body just feels a lot more in-sync than it ever has been,” said Houck, who underwent season-ending back surgery in 2022 and missed two months of 2023 with a facial fracture when he was hit by a line drive.

“Not overthrowing” has been key, Houck said. “In a game today where so many people are throwing up triple digits in terms of fastballs, I kind of had to look at myself in the mirror and realize that I’m not a guy that does that.

“I can reach back and reach some of the higher numbers, but whenever I do it, I spray it. If I throw 91-95 (mph), it’s a lot more controlled, it’s a lot more sustainable. I’ll never say that I’ve pinpointed control, but it’s definitely a more in-sync and just overall better version of me.”

Then there’s the fact that none of this was given to Houck. He’s been fighting to prove he can be a legitimate starting pitcher for most of his career.

Though the righty debuted as a starter during the shortened 2020 season – making three impressive performances of at least five innings apiece between Sept. 15 and 26 – it was only the beginning. He made 13 starts and five relief appearances in 2021, then spent almost the entire 2022 campaign in the bullpen, starting only four times, finishing 14 games, and earning eight saves.


He wasn’t supposed to have a spot in last year’s rotation, either, but when Brayan Bello, Garrett Whitlock and James Paxton all began the season on the injured list, he got a chance. And when Chris Sale and Corey Kluber struggled early on, he stepped up.

Looking back, Houck is grateful for the varied experience that a non-linear path brings.

“The cool thing is – with doing what I’ve done over the past few years – I’ve worn many hats and seen many different roles, many different situations,” he said. “From closing games to starting games, I feel like I’ve seen every scenario that you can have under the sun. So I’ve had many different lessons that I’ve learned because of that.”

This spring, Houck again reported to spring training to compete for a rotation spot. Now that he finally seems firmly established, he’s far from satisfied.

“I’m not complacent at all,” he said. “I know I can continue to get better and continue to improve.”

That mindset makes Houck a perfect fit for one of the most exacting, demanding, invested fan bases in sports.

“It’s a hard market, they expect a lot, but it just means that they’re passionate,” he said. “The fans care, and coming from my end, that’s what you want.”

And when it’s the ninth inning and you’re standing on the mound at America’s oldest major league ballpark on the precipice of greatness, it’s exactly the kind of fan base that takes the moment up a couple dozen levels.

“Definitely chills, sends a little shock down your spine a little bit, reminds you that you’re human,” he said. “Just an honor. This stadium, if it could talk, it could tell so many amazing stories, so many amazing outings. It was an honor to do it in front of Fenway and these fans.”

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