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 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 against the Chicago Cubs on Sunday night when Josh Beckett went on the disabled list with a sore right shoulder and Clay Buchholz decided he couldn't pitch on five days' rest.
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 Morales threw were the 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 road trip with victories in four of their last five games.
Unlike some of the divas in the Red Sox rotation, Morales was a refreshing change. He worked at a quick tempo, threw strikes and never once pouted over an umpire’s call. he cheerfully answered questions afterward and seemed genuinely glad to be part of a victory
Morales even slid hard into second base in the fifth inning to try and 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.”
Andrew Miller, one of five relievers who followed Morales to the mound, said Morales had the whole bullpen cheering for him.
“How great was Franky? That was incredible,” he said. “Who knows where it goes from here but he really picked us up as a team.”
Offensively, it was a night that saw David Ortiz drive in two runs and Dustin Pedroia one. But the Sox also got an RBI single from Ryan Kalish, a perfect squeeze bunt from Danial Nava and a sacrifice fly from Will Middlebrooks.
If the Sox are to stay over .500 with their fractured roster, they need to force the action like they did tonight and draw from the energy of players like Middlebrooks, Kalish and Nava. Those guys aren't polishing dusty World Series rings or having their agents call the GM to complain about the manager. They're trying to win games.
"I really liked some of the things I saw," Valentine said.
A few notes:
• Scott Podsednik left the game with what the Red Sox Dept. of Injury Euphemisms called "mild left groin discomfort." Valentine said Podsednik doesn't think it's serious.
• Kevin Youkilis, who snapped an 0-for-20 with a single, left the game when he got stepped on.
• The Sox are 19-14 on the road and 6-6 in interleague play with six games left.
• Ortiz has seven homers off lefties. He had eight last season. The big man (.311/.396/.598) has carried this team offensively. There are players with better statistics but how many mean more to their teams than David?
• Middle relievers almost never make the All-Star team, especially from teams that have other All-Stars. But Scott Atchison has a 1.24 ERA and an 0.91 WHIP over 36.1 innings.
• Finally, on a personal note, Wrigley Field is a great place to spend a sunny weekend. The people who work at the park are incredibly nice and it was fun to watch National League baseball at a cool old park.
Back at another cool old park later this week. Catch you then. Thanks to everybody for reading this weekend. We sure do appreciate it.