CHICAGO — The first hitter to step into the batter’s box for the Red Sox on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field for this three-game series against the Cubs was Jarren Duran, and it wasn’t a moment too soon for the center fielder, who smashed a homer to center on the first pitch of the game.

Duran, who was on the restricted list for the three-game series in Toronto due to not being vaccinated against COVID-19, didn’t enjoy the experience of watching his teammates go to battle without him.

In September, when the Red Sox go back to Toronto for games 157-159, Duran expects to be there.

“Yeah, I’ll be available,” Duran said.

Was it the uncomfortable feeling of watching his team play without him earlier this week that changed Duran’s stance about getting vaccinated?

“Not just that, but I love this game too much to miss out on opportunities to play baseball,” said Duran. “I could care less about the money or service time or any of that. I just missed the boys and playing baseball, so that’s kind of like the deciding factor.”

The Red Sox also were without closer Tanner Houck for the three games in Toronto. That absence was more glaring with the club surrendering late-inning leads in the final two games of the series. Boston lost two of three in Toronto, but did rebound from Ryan Brasier’s blown save on Wednesday to salvage the series finale in 10 innings.

Unlike Duran, Houck didn’t care to speculate on what his status will be when the Red Sox next have to clear customs to play the Blue Jays.

“Yeah, it’s tough watching, but that’s all I really have to say about it right now,” said Houck. “Just not going to comment on it.”

Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who is also unvaccinated but missed the first two trips to Toronto anyway because he was on the injured list, declined to say what the future will bring. 

“I just had a lot of fun,” Sale said to reporters in Portland, Maine, following a strong rehab start on Thursday. “Let’s not ruin that. I’m enjoying this process. I appreciate being where I’m at and what I’m doing. Today’s today and tomorrow’s going to come. We’ll figure that [stuff] in a month.”

For the second time this week, Red Sox manager Alex Cora expressed confidence on Friday that his team’s vaccination status will be improved when his club next plays in Toronto.

This situation is particularly important when considering that there’s a chance Boston could travel to Toronto in the postseason.

“I hate to say it this way, but it is what it is right now,” said Cora. “We’ve got plenty of time to get some more players in that series [in September], and if we make it to the playoffs and they make it to the playoffs, then we [could] have to go up there and play. We talk to the players, and I think things are going to be changing with time.”

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