This is life in the big leagues, which is why the reigning Mr. October, David Ortiz, says the Red Sox are in a "tough spot," because they still must beat the St. Louis Cardinals one more time to claim their third World Series championship in 10 seasons.
One more victory and they will dance in front of the Green Monster or maybe even around the Pesky Pole, with no more baseball to play until after the equipment trucks have been loaded and put on the highway for Florida in early February. The Sox didn't get to celebrate a World Series at Fenway Park in 2004 or '07, but thanks to Monday night's 3-1 victory in the duel between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright, they are on the doorstep of another title, this time only one year removed from a 93-loss nightmare.
The Red Sox know it will be tough to beat Michael Wacha in Game 6 -- or if they are forced there, Joe Kelly in a Game 7 -- with the weight of New England bearing down on them as it once did men like Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Jim Rice and Roger Clemens.
Boston manager John Farrell says that leading the World Series 3-2 is a good position, "provided we win one more." Farrell and all of his players know that this will not be an easy task, and not just because the Cardinals have Wacha (4-0, 1.00 ERA in four postseason starts) set to go against the Red Sox's John Lackey in Game 6.
The Red Sox improved to 8-2 in Game 5 of a World Series with their win on Monday night
Mets in 7
Reds in 7
Cardinals in 7
Cardinals in 7
Red Sox in 6
Red Sox in 5
Red Sox in 5
Red Sox in 7
Red Sox in 8
"You know, our guys have been backed up against the wall before, and this is something that isn't foreign to them," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "They know what we have to do. We just play our game. If we go about it the right way, we'll be right where we want to be."
Matheny was on the fringe of the organization in 2011, when Tony La Russa managed the Cardinals to a World Series championship after they returned to Busch Stadium down 3-2 to Texas, which twice would get within one strike of finishing St. Louis off in Game 6. But Matheny has firsthand knowledge of his team's resilience, as it recovered from a 2-1 deficit in the best-of-five National League Division Series to beat Pittsburgh.
While the Cards must be somewhat in a state of shock after losing back-to-back games at Busch Stadium, where they had been 6-1 in the playoffs and 19-3 since the start of September, Matheny expects his players to be fully recovered by Wednesday night. How do you win two in a row at hallowed Fenway Park?
"I think it starts with a mentality that it's a great challenge," Matheny said. "It's a great opportunity for us to go in and prove the kind of team we are as far as how tough we are mentally, and I think that's where it begins. After that, it comes down to execution. We've got to have Michael come out and throw a big game. We were in that spot backed up where we had to have a win [against the Pirates]. It's not something we haven't seen before, and the guys know what we have to do; we have to play the game.
"They have to lock arms, trust each other and play the game the right way. Most of it is going to be the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds ... and go out and play the game."
When the Cardinals won a tight Game 3 on the obstruction call that followed Jarrod Saltalamacchia's wild throw to third base, they were in position to possibly finish this series under the Gateway Arch. That chance vanished with the Red Sox's 4-2 win on Jonny Gomes' homer in Game 4, and Lester outpitched Wainwright on Monday in Game 5, to the dismay of 47,436 at Busch Stadium.
Wainwright entered the start having thrown 269 2/3 innings this season, including 28 in the postseason. The ace was determined to make up for the uncharacteristically ineffective outing in Game 1, but he worked from behind after only three batters, even though he struck out six of the first eight.
The two Wainwright didn't were Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz, and their back-to-back doubles in the first inning -- when Matheny did not walk Ortiz intentionally -- gave Boston a 1-0 lead. The Cards tied it on a Matt Holliday home run in the fourth inning, and it stayed tied through six innings.
It was Wainwright who flinched in the top of the seventh, giving up runs on a David Ross double and a bloop single by Jacoby Ellsbury. Lester was brilliant, pounding the strike zone with his full collection of pitches, including a deadly cutter. He turned the two-run lead over to Koji Uehara in the eighth, having held St. Louis to four hits while walking no one.
"If I could say one good thing about him, he doesn't take any pitches off," Ross said of Lester. "He puts the same emphasis on the first pitch he throws as the last pitch he throws, and that's what makes a really good pitcher."
Wacha, a 22-year-old kid who started 2012 in the Texas A&M rotation, has been as focused and as locked in as any pitcher on the planet this October. He pitched the Cardinals back into the NLDS with a masterpiece at PNC Park, and he was the NL Championship Series MVP after two wins against the Dodgers. Wacha beat the Red Sox, 4-2, in Game 2 of the World Series, but it's worth noting that they made him throw 114 pitches to get through six innings.
One victory away. That's where the Red Sox find themselves after a postseason run in which they have beaten David Price, Matt Moore, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Wainwright (twice), among others. But teams have gone home with 3-2 leads in the World Series and watched the visiting team celebrate after Game 7.
It is unlikely that the Boston Globe will run the parade route until after the Red Sox have won one more game.
"We're really excited about this win, but we know there's a lot of work to do," Ross said. "That's a really good ball team over there. They do the same thing. They're not giving up. They're not giving away at-bats. They've got a really good pitcher that will be on the mound in two days. And we're going to have our work cut out for us."