On Wednesday night, in the thrilling Red Sox' 11-7 win over the San Francisco Giants, a tale of two pitchers played out.
One demonstrated that he may well be the most important pitcher on the staff for the next few weeks. Another, by his absence, proved exactly how relevant he's become.
Matt Barnes is the former. Clay Buchholz is the latter.
Barnes entered the game in the sixth inning with the bases loaded, no out and the Red Sox in eminent danger of frittering away what had been an 8-0 lead.
The Giants had come roaring back with five runs charged to starter Drew Pomeranz and chipped away with a couple more off Robbie Ross Jr. and Tommy Layne.
All the momentum was with the Giants, who were 90 feet away from wiping out the huge head start the Red Sox had forged for themselves.
But Barnes got a quick double play, with an assist from Hanley Ramirez, erasing a runner at the plate and was soon out of the inning unscored upon.
He followed that up with two more scoreless innings for his longest, and unquestionably, most important outing of the season.
In the wake of injuries to Junichi Tazawa (shoulder), Craig Kimbrel (knee) and Koji Uehara (pectorcal muscle strain) and the earlier season-ending loss of Carson Smith (elbow), the Red Sox, are for the time being, without the four relievers who, at the start of the season, were the four most important pitchers in their bullpen.
Smith isn't coming back until next year. Kimbrel and Uehara are down for several weeks. Even Tazawa, who is expected to be activated as early as Friday, will have to be used carefully, and almost certainly will not be available to pitch on consecutive days -- at least not initially.
That makes Barnes the most reliable and effective high-leverage reliever the Sox have.
When a starter gets the Red Sox to, say, the seventh, Barnes will almost always play a role in getting the Sox to successfully navigate the bridge to the ninth, where temporary closer Brad Ziegler will go for the final three outs.
He likely won't be asked to pitch as long as three innings at a time anytime soon, but he will be counted upon to get the most important outs every night.
The Sox don't have other dependable options, but Barnes had earned the role with performances like Wednesday night.
On the other hand, there's Buchholz, who has become the invisible man on the Red Sox pitching staff.
If ever there seemed to be an opportunity to utilize Buchholz, Wednesday night was it. When Pomeranz left, the Red Sox still had to get 18 more outs.
Surely a well-rested Buchholz, who last pitched on July 2 and has pitched just once since June 26, would be able to provide at least a couple of innings and serve as the bridge to Heath Hembree, Barnes and Ziegler.
Guess again. The Sox used a total of five of their seven relievers in Wednesday's win, but Buchholz wasn't one of them.
If he wasn't utilized Wednesday, when will he be?
Designated as the team's long man, he was the obvious choice to handle the fourth and fifth. Until he wasn't.
All of which begs the question: why is Buchholz on the staff if he's not going to be used at all? Perhaps if the Sox had found themselves behind by eight, Buchholz could have been called upon.
But that hardly justifies him taking up a spot on the staff.
For a while, I've maintained that the Sox will not release or designate or trade Buchholz to free up a roster spot because the Sox have no other starting depth options in the organization. If something happens to David Price or Steven Wright or Rick Porcello or Eduardo Rodriguez, Buchholz would be there to take some spot starts.
Underperforming as he has been, he would still seem a better choice than, say Henry Owens or Roenis Elias.
But it's beginning to look like the Red Sox don't share that sentiment.
That, in turn, raises the question: if Buchholz didn't pitch Wednesday, why is he still here?