By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It was the top of the eighth inning, and the Red Sox were floundering.

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Specifically, with a chance to punch Boston’s ticket to the American League Championship Series, right-handed reliever Ryan Brasier was floundering. Brasier allowed back-to-back doubles, balls that were absolutely crushed to a nearly identical spot in right-center field, quickly cutting Boston’s 5-3 lead in half.

With Brasier having to face Randy Arozarena to reach the three-batter minimum, he decided to attack the middle of the plate. That was a bad idea, with Arozarena sending a laser of his own into right field to score the tying run. Hunter Renfroe’s needlessly aggressive decision to throw home allowed Arozarena — representing the go-ahead run — to reach second base.

In Game 4 of the ALDS, with a trip back to Tampa for a must-win Game 5 looming, things looked dicey for the Red Sox.

But then, in stepped a bullpen savior in Garrett Whitlock.

Facing the 2-3-4 batters of the Tampa lineup, Whitlock got Wander Franco to fly out to right field, not deep enough to advance the runner to third. He then induced a harmless tapper back to the mound for the second out, before getting Nelson Cruz to ground out softly to third base to end the inning and the threat.

Whitlock needed all of eight pitches to douse those threatening flames.

The Red Sox failed to retake the lead in the bottom of the inning, with Alex Verdugo, J.D. Martinez, and Renfroe going down in order. So Whitlock trotted back out to the mound for his second inning of work.

Carrying himself with all the intensity of a man strolling the grocery store aisle looking for a loaf of bread, Whitlock mowed the Rays down on just six pitched. Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Diaz grounded out to the right side of the infield, before Austin Meadows flew out to left field.

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Entering the bottom of the ninth tied, Whitlock had given the Red Sox two perfect innings, stranding the inherited go-ahead runner at second base, and requiring just 15 pitches to do it. And then they walked it off, and now they’re heading to the ALCS.

For that … the Red Sox can send a nice thank you card to the New York Yankees. Perhaps even an Edible Arrangement is in store.

While some may say the rivalry is heated and full of hatred, the fact is that the Red Sox likely wouldn’t be making their preparations for the ALCS if not for the charitable decision to leave Whitlock exposed in the Rule 5 draft.

Despite Whitlock having no MLB experience, despite coming off Tommy John surgery and a missed 2020 season, and despite the Rule 5 draft essentially requiring draftees to take up a spot on the 26-man roster, Chaim Bloom and Co. identified Whitlock as a potential fit for their big league club. It paid off in spades.

After Whitlock posted a 1.96 ERA and a 1.105 WHIP with 81 strikeouts and 17 walks in 46 appearances (73.1 IP) in the regular season this year, Whitlock has only allowed a meaningless solo home run while finishing out the Red Sox’ 6-2 victory over the Yankees in the Wild Card game.

In the ALDS, Whitlock pitched 1.1 scoreless innings in Game 3, allowing just one intentional walk with no hits while striking out three batters. In that game, Whitlock also stranded the go-ahead runner on second base, entering after Hansel Robles blew the save in the eighth inning. Whitlock stabilized the game by getting Mike Zunino to strike out looking, before retiring the Rays in order in the top of the ninth. That bridged the gap to Nick Pivetta, and the Red Sox won in 13 innings.

A day later, on no rest, Whitlock again played the role of fire extinguisher. He succeeded, and the Red Sox are heading to the ALCS.

None of this would have been possible, of course, had the Yankees simply found a spot on their 40-man roster for Whitlock, whom they selected in the 2017 draft. The specifics of the Rule 5 draft aren’t particularly exciting, but the bottom line is that the Yankees had four spots for additions to their 40-man roster, and they didn’t use any of them on the man who earned the win in the ALDS-clinching game for the Red Sox.

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The Yankees gave up on Whitlock, not realizing what they had. For that, the Red Sox are certainly very, very thankful.