Morales exceeding expectations


Morales exceeding expectations

BOSTON Watching Franklin Morales walk the second batter of the game, Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thought there might be something wrong. Entering the game, Morales had given up just eight walks, two intentional, in 28 23 innings this season, compared to 29 strikeouts. In his five-inning start on June 17 his first start since April 8, 2009 Morales didnt allow a walk while striking out a career-high nine.

On Saturday night, Morales allowed a single to Michael Bourn to open the game, walked Martin Prado, and, after a double steal, gave up an RBI single to Brian McCann.

But the left-hander quickly adjusted. He struck out Dan Uggla, looking at an 82-mph changeup, and Freddie Freeman, swinging at an 84-mph changeup, before getting Chipper Jones to line out to Mike Aviles at shortstop to end the inning.

After that Morales faced the minimum number of batters over the next three innings. He gave up a single to Bourn in the third, but the Braves lead-off hitter was erased when Prado grounded into a double play.

Morales went six innings, allowing three runs, two earned, on seven hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. He threw 86 pitches, 62 strikes, for an impressive 72 percent strike rate. He earned the win, improving to 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA, as the Sox beat the Braves 8-4.

Morales comes out throwing strikes, Valentine said. The first inning when he walked Prado, I thought there was something drastically wrong when you see him walk a batter. Holy cow, is he alright? But actually he turned out to be fine in the first inning. Got us six innings this time instead of five. Throwing strikes aggressively and not afraid to use that changeup now. He mixed that in a lot more tonight. Changed the speed on his breaking ball a little. Hes making good adjustments.

Asked if Morales has given more than what might have been expected, Valentine replied:

Its hard to make expectations. But for him to maintain the velocity now, twice. Into the 80 pitches last time, 86 this time is very impressive and thats more than I expected.

In his two starts combined, Morales has gone 11 innings, giving up four runs (3.27 ERA) with 17 strikeouts and one walk. His eight- and nine-strikeout performances in the two starts are the highest strikeout totals of his career. Since 1985, the only other Red Sox pitchers to strikeout out at least eight batters in their first two starts of a season were Roger Clemens in 1988, and Pedro Martinez (1998 2000).

"I feel real confident in myself and I think it's good for me to be starting, Morales said.

"I feel very good.

Morales last two outings, his first starts in more than three years, were out of necessity. With Josh Beckett on the disabled list, Morales was pressed into service. Although Beckett is eligible to be activated on June 27, Valentine left little doubt to his thoughts on Morales getting another start.

Yes, most assuredly, Valentine said.

NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945


NLCS: Cubs eliminate Dodgers, reach Series for first time since 1945

CHICAGO -- Cursed by a Billy Goat, bedeviled by Bartman and crushed by decades of disappointment, the Chicago Cubs are at long last headed back to the World Series.

Kyle Hendricks outpitched Clayton KershawAnthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras homered early and the Cubs won their first pennant since 1945, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 Saturday night in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The drought ended when closer Aroldis Chapman got Yasiel Puig to ground into a double play, setting off a wild celebration inside Wrigley Field, outside the ballpark and all over the city.

Seeking their first crown since 1908, manager Joe Maddon's team opens the World Series at Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Indians haven't won it all since 1948 - Cleveland and Cubs have the two longest title waits in the majors.

"This city deserves it so much," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this. We're going to the World Series. I can't even believe that."

All-everything Javier Baez and pitcher Jon Lester shared the NLCS MVP. Baez hit .318, drove in five runs and made several sharp plays at second base. Lester, a former World Series champion in Boston, was 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.

Deemed World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs topped the majors with 103 wins to win the NL Central, then beat the Giants and Dodgers in the playoffs.

The Cubs overcame a 2-1 deficit against the Dodgers and won their 17th pennant. They had not earned a World Series trip since winning a doubleheader opener 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 29, 1945, to clinch the pennant on the next-to-last day of the season.

The eternal "wait till next year" is over. No more dwelling on a history of failure - the future is now.

"We're too young. We don't care about it," star slugger Kris Bryant said. "We don't look into it. This is a new team, this is a completely different time of our lives. We're enjoying it and our work's just getting started."

Hendricks pitched two-hit ball for 7 1/3 innings. Chapman took over and closed with hitless relief, then threw both arms in the air as he was mobbed by teammates and coaches.

The crowd joined in, chanting and serenading their team.

"Chicago!" shouted popular backup catcher David Ross.

The Cubs shook off back-to-back shutout losses earlier in this series by pounding the Dodgers for 23 runs to win the final three games.

And they were in no way overwhelmed by the moment on Saturday, putting aside previous frustration.

In 1945, the Billy Goat Curse supposedly began when a tavern owner wasn't allowed to bring his goat to Wrigley. In 2003, the Cubs lost the final three games of the NLCS to Florida, punctuated with a Game 6 defeat when fan Steve Bartman deflected a foul ball.

Even as recently as 2012, the Cubs lost 101 times.

This time, no such ill luck.

Bryant had an RBI single and scored in a two-run first. Dexter Fowler added two hits, drove in a run and scored one.

Contreras led off the fourth with a homer. Rizzo continued his resurgence with a solo drive in the fifth.

That was plenty for Hendricks, the major league ERA leader.

Hendricks left to a standing ovation after Josh Reddick singled with one out in the eighth. The only other hit Hendricks allowed was a single by Andrew Toles on the game's first pitch.

Kershaw, dominant in Game 2 shutout, gave up five runs and seven hits before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the sixth. He fell to 4-7 in the postseason.

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since winning in 1988.

Pitching on five days' rest, the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner threw 30 pitches in the first. Fowler led off with a double, and Bryant's single had the crowd shaking the 102-year-old ballpark.

They had more to cheer when left fielder Andrew Toles dropped Rizzo's fly, putting runners on second and third, and Ben Zobrist made it 2-0 a sacrifice fly.

The Cubs added a run in the second when Addison Russell doubled to deep left and scored on a two-out single by Fowler.


Maddon benched slumping right fielder Jason Heyward in favor of Albert Almora Jr.

"Kershaw's pitching, so I wanted to get one more right-handed bat in the lineup, and also with Albert I don't feel like we're losing anything on defense," Maddon said. "I know Jason's a Gold Glover, but I think Albert, given an opportunity to play often enough would be considered a Gold Glove-caliber outfielder, too."

Heyward was 2 for 28 in the playoffs - 1 for 16 in the NLCS.


Kerry Wood, wearing a Ron Santo jersey, threw out the first pitch and actor Jim Belushi delivered the "Play Ball!" call before the game. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder and actor John Cusack were also in attendance. And Bulls great Scottie Pippen led the seventh-inning stretch.