CHICAGO -- Jarrod Saltalamacchia had been slumping a bit of late, going hitless in his first 12 at-bats of this road trip and batting .132 over an 11-game stretch. So naturally Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine moved Saltalamacchia down in the batting order for Saturday's game against the Cubs, right?
As it turns out, Valentine did the complete opposite, vaulting his catcher into the cleanup spot. Saltalamacchia rewarded his manager nicely for that vote of confidence, belting a double and a two-run homer while leading the Red Sox to a 4-3 victory over the Cubs.
It was the first time Saltalamacchia started a game at cleanup in his career.
Was there a method to Bobby V's madness?
"Sometimes crazy times ask for crazy measures," Valentine said. "Actually I think he's been hitting the ball really well and hitting into lousy luck. He knows that I totally believe in him. I saw his average go from .280 to .250-something and the team [was] losing and he's dragging his head a little. I thought that was a way to make him understand that I believe in him."
Valentine showed Saltalamacchia that not only through his placement in the batting order, but also with some encouraging words.
"Yeah, it felt good," Saltalamacchia said. "I talked to him as I was walking out last night, and that's exactly what he said. He's like, 'Hey, it's going to start falling because you're swinging the bat well.' It's kind of what happened at the beginning of the season. I was hitting the ball hard right at people. I felt that's what I was doing the last few days, hitting it right at people and right to the fence. It felt good to have a little confidence and hit in the four-hole. I was comfortable."
Hard-pressed to score runs of late, Boston didn't exactly explode in this one, but there was enough production to help make a winner out of Jon Lester.
The lefty went 6 2/3 innings, scattering seven hits. He allowed three runs -- all of them coming on Luis Valbuena's three-run homer in the bottom of the seventh.
"He's one of the better pitchers in the American League and in all of baseball," said Cubs manager Dale Sveum. "He has good command of his fastball, he doesn't walk a lot of people, he's got one of the best cutters, if not the best cutter, in baseball. You throw a ball that moves that much at 90 miles an hour, he can back door and get it to the right-hander's back foot. That's why he's one of the better ones."
Lester (4-4, 4.53 ERA) walked one and struck out eight, throwing 102 pitches.
"I threw 102 pitches, and one was a mistake," Lester said. "It's still frustrating. I started the game with a couple of hard-hit line drives. [Dustin Pedroia] made a great play on the double play there in the first inning to get me out of that inning. But, really, other than that, you look at the hits they had, a couple of flares to right, there were three infield hits. I've got to take that positive from the bad contact."
Saltalamacchia nearly gave Lester the lead before he even threw a pitch. After a two-out walk to David Ortiz in the first, Saltalamacchia ripped a double to right. Third-base coach Jerry Royster waved Ortiz around, but he was thrown out at the plate.
The next time Saltalamacchia came to the plate, he left nothing to chance. Ortiz led off the top of the fourth with a double to right, and Saltalamacchia unloaded with a two-run homer to right, giving Boston a 2-0 lead. It was home run No. 12 on the season for Saltalamacchia.
"Yeah, he threw me a split that I swung through and missed," Saltalamacchia said. "Then, he tried to throw it again, and he threw it more in the strike zone. I was able to put the barrel on it and get it up."
In the sixth, Boston rallied again. Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija walked Ortiz and Saltalamacchia with one out. Sveum went to the bullpen, as Randy Wells came on. Will Middlebrooks greeted him with an RBI single up the middle, but the Cubs did manage to catch Saltalamacchia between second and third on the play.
"Well, I had to make an adjustment," Middlebrooks said. "My first at-bat, I pulled off a couple of balls and was trying to stay up the middle of the field."
The Red Sox made some noise again in the seventh. Mike Aviles led off with a double, and Scott Podsednik drove him in with a one-out single up the middle.
"Scotty just wants everyone to know that he's still a Major League Baseball player and a really good one," said Valentine. "He goes out there every day with a desire to do something good. By golly, he does something good every day."
After not touching Lester for the first six innings, the Cubs stormed back in the seventh. Jeff Baker started it with a double down the line in right. With one out, Lester walked Welington Castillo. Up stepped Valbuena, and he hammered a three-run homer, slicing Boston's lead to 4-3.
"He missed with all of his pitches in the first two hitters," said Valentine. "I thought he was going to get the two left-handers. I just went out and told him that that was going to be his job. It didn't work out that way."
But as has been the case so often the last few weeks, the bullpen took it home for the Red Sox.
Scott Atchison recorded the final out of the seventh. Vicente Padilla handled the eighth, getting a big assist from Daniel Nava, who made a brilliant catch on a Darwin Barney liner.
Nava plucked the ball before it hit the ground, narrowly avoiding a trap. The umpires conferred, but stuck with their original call.
"I was pretty sure it was a catch," said Nava. "I didn't think there was any debate, but I understood with the longer grass and the situation of the game, it doesn't have to be blatantly obvious that it wasn't a catch for them to say something. I wasn't surprised [Sveum] went out, but I knew it was a catch."
Alfredo Aceves worked a scoreless ninth for Boston, recording his 16th save.