Spot on in his spot start
Morales goes five as Sox beat Cubs
CHICAGO - When he managed the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, Bobby Valentine had a knack of identifying undervalued players and putting them in positions to succeed.
There can be hidden talent even on major league rosters. All it takes is the right person to notice.
Franklin Morales, a middling middle reliever, was Valentine’s choice to start Sunday night after Josh Beckett went on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder.
Morales didn’t get the victory but pitched five impressive innings as the Sox beat the Cubs, 7-4, at Wrigley Field.
“He was horse,’’ teammate Vicente Padilla said. “Secretariat.’’
Morales allowed two runs - one on a defensive mistake - on four hits and struck out a career-best nine without a walk. The 80 pitches he threw were his most since he was a starter with the Rockies in 2009.
“We had a hunch he could perform well in that situation,’’ Valentine said. “He proved our hunch correct. Those were five pretty good innings and he had more, according to him. I’d like to give him a chance to do more next time.’’
By the end of the game, most of those left from the crowd of 38,531 were Sox fans who spent a sunny weekend here seeing their team take two of three from Theo Epstein’s Cubs.
The Sox, back to .500 at 33-33, were 4-2 on their trip with victories in four of their last five games.
Unlike some in the Red Sox rotation, Morales worked at a quick tempo, threw strikes, and never once pouted over an umpire’s call.
He even slid hard into second base in the fifth inning to try to break up a double play after reaching on a single.
On a team burdened with disparate agendas, the 26-year-old lefthander from Venezuela set an example worth following.
“I just wanted to do my best,’’ Morales said. “I told Bobby I would go as long as I could. He gave me a lot of confidence.’’
Morales threw his fastball for strikes and used a changeup more effectively than he has as a reliever. He allowed a run on two hits in the first inning and another in the third when Dustin Pedroia dropped a two-out popup behind second base after nearly colliding with right fielder Darnell McDonald.
Morales retired the final seven batters he faced, striking out five of them. He left with a 3-2 lead.
“I know I’ll be sore tomorrow, but I’m happy,’’ Morales said.
Andrew Miller, one of five relievers who followed Morales to the mound, said Morales had the whole bullpen cheering for him.
“How great was Frankie? That was incredible,’’ Miller said. “Who knows where it goes from here but he really picked us up as a team.’’
The Sox came out swinging against Paul Maholm.
Scott Podsednik led off the game with a single to center field. Pedroia then broke out of his slump with an RBI double to the gap in left. It was only his second extra-base hit in 47 at-bats since missing six games because of a torn muscle in his right thumb.
Pedroia scored when David Ortiz singled to right field.
After the Cubs tied it in the third, the Sox regained the lead quickly when Ortiz led off the fourth inning by lining a low changeup over the fence in center.
It was the 16th home run of the season for Ortiz, his seventh against a lefthanded pitcher. Ortiz hit eight against lefties all season.
Matt Albers, who relieved Morales, gave up a run in a rough sixth inning for the Sox.
Darwin Barney reached on an error at third base by the struggling Kevin Youkilis, who snapped an 0-for-20 skid with a single in the eighth inning then left the game with a sore toe.
Starlin Castro reached on a single when he accidentally tapped the ball in front of the plate and it rolled to a stop on the grass.
With one out, Albers had a chance to get out of the inning unscathed when Jeff Baker hit a one-hopper back to the mound.
Albers turned and threw to second to try to start a double play. But Pedroia and shortstop Mike Aviles were both on the bag and the ball dropped to the dirt. The infielders had been yelling at Albers to go home with the ball.
Aviles was charged with an error as Barney scored. Albers (2-0) got two grounders to get out of the inning without further damage and ended up with the win.
The Sox took a 6-3 lead in an unconventional seventh inning, as the Cubs got sloppy.
McDonald led off with a double to left field against Shawn Camp (2-4). Jarrod Saltalamacchia pinch hit against the righthander and singled to right.
Saltalamacchia, believing there would be a throw to the plate, took off for second. Baker, the first baseman, cut off the throw but dropped it, and Saltalamacchia was safe at second.
Ryan Kalish, playing in his first major league game since 2010, singled up the middle to score McDonald and send Saltalamacchia to third.
Will Middlebrooks pinch hit and came through with a sacrifice fly to center. As the throw came to the plate, Kalish tagged up from first and went to second. He slid in safely and went to third when the throw got away for the second error of the inning.
Daniel Nava then put down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt and the Sox had another run in a wild inning.
Saltalamacchia drove in an insurance run in the eighth inning.
Podsednik, who has hit .387 in 19 games, left in the fifth inning with a mild groin strain on his left side. He hopes to play Tuesday.