CHICAGO — Jarrod Saltalamacchia was hitless in his last 17 at-bats with six strikeouts and had never batted cleanup in any of the 404 major league games he had played in his career.
So with the Red Sox needing a victory on Saturday night to avoid sinking deeper into last place, who better to bat fourth against the Chicago Cubs than a cold hitter who had never done it before?
“Sometimes crazy times ask for crazy measures,” manager Bobby Valentine said after Saltalamacchia’s two-run homer helped the Sox to a 4-3 victory against the Cubs.
Valentine actually did have a motive beyond being unconventional. He saw the lineup switch as a way to boost Saltalamacchia’s bruised confidence.
“I think he’s been hitting the ball really well and hitting into lousy luck,” Valentine said “He was dragging his head a little and I thought that was a way to make him understand that I believe in him.”
Saltalamacchia nearly drove in three runs but David Ortiz was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first on the catcher’s double in the first inning.
But after Ortiz walked in the fourth inning, Saltalamacchia drove a splitter from Jeff Samardzija over the ivy-covered all in right field for his 12th home run.
“It felt good to have a little confidence and hit in the four-hole,” said Saltalamacchia, who hit 16 home runs all of last season. “I was comfortable.”
Saltalamacchia also did a fine job handling the pitching staff as Jon Lester (4-4) and three relievers held the Cubs down outside of a three-run homer by Luis Valbuena in the seventh inning.
Scott Atchison got the final out of the seventh inning before Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves (16 saves) each went an inning. The bullpen has gone 9.1 innings without giving up a run and has allowed two in its last 21 innings.
The Sox are 3-2 on a road trip that ends Sunday night with Franklin Morales coming out of the bullpen to get the start in place of Josh Beckett.
A few notes:
• Cody Ross was 1 for 3 with a walk in his first rehab game for Triple A Pawtucket. He was the DH.
• Mark Prior, by the way, struck out two and got a fly ball for the save for Pawtucket in Buffalo. Prior’s line in 5 games: 6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 15 K.
• Carl Crawford said after the game that he feels ready to start playing in rehab games. “I’m throwing and hitting normally,” he said. “I feel great. But nobody has told me anything. My schedule get changed every day it seems like.”
• Beckett refused to speak to reporters after the game. “Tuesday,” he said. Sure, Tuesday. There’s no reason fans would want to know how their team’s No. 2 starter feels. It’s not like Beckett has two years and $31.50 million left on his deal.
Oh, wait, he does.
• Cubs fans were all over Alfonso Soriano because of a play in the sixth inning. With two on and two outs, Soriano hit a rocket to third. Will Middlebrooks caught the ball and dropped it. After scrambling around to pick it, Middlebrooks threw Soriano out to end the inning.
Soriano stood watching the liner and when Middlebrooks dropped it, he was only a few feet from the plate. The fans booed. Then they booed when he went to left and again when he came up in the eighth.
“Incredible topspin on the ball,” Middlebrooks explained. “That’s why I dropped it. But he would have been out anyway.”
Said Mike Aviles: “I think we all do that when he hit a line drive to third or the pitcher. You just stop. I don’t blame him for that.”
But Cubs fans have plenty of other reasons to be sore about Soriano. He landed an eight-year $136 million deal and has hit .267/.320/ .498. Soriano has $36 million remaining for 2013-14.