Three down, one to go: Sox on cusp of title
Lester dominates over 7 2/3 frames while Papi, Ross deliver clutch hits
ST. LOUIS -- The lefty slugger and the lefty ace. Together, they have put the Red Sox one victory from winning it all.
Though the gregarious David Ortiz has been front and center in adding to his legend of late, Jon Lester has quietly carved out a pretty special October in his own right.
Lester outlasted and outpitched the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright in a compelling duel of elite pitchers in Monday night's 3-1 victory in Game 5 of the World Series at Busch Stadium.
That gives Boston a 3-2 lead over St. Louis in this riveting Fall Classic, and sets up Fenway Park for a possible World Series clincher in Game 6 on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET air time on FOX, 8:07 first pitch).
"I'm telling you, it's going to get loud out there," said Ortiz. "Our fans are baseball fans. They love the game and they love how we've been going at it every day. And I'm pretty sure it's going to be very loud out there."
Very loud? That is what Big Papi's bat has been in his Fall Classic for the ages. Ortiz had three more hits in Game 5, and he is hitting .733 (11-for-15) with two homers and six RBIs.
"This guy right here is the epitome of a superstar and a good teammate," said Lester, "and I don't think you could ever ask for more out of an individual than what he does on and off the field. The guy's got a heart of gold, and he goes out there every single night and competes."
It was actually David Ross who had the biggest hit on Monday night, belting a ground-rule double into the corner in left with one out in the seventh, breaking a 1-1 tie.
"It was hard to tell in the dugout. [I] just wanted to make sure it stayed fair," said Dustin Pedroia. "It was a great at-bat. Guys did some really special things tonight, this whole series. We've had guys step up and find ways to win, which is what teams like this do."
After Boston's loss in Game 3, manager John Farrell went with Ross over primary catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia the next two games. Though his defense is what he's known for, Ross has been a useful hitter for the Sox this postseason.
With a slight offensive attack at his back, Lester went to work and put together a dominant performance. He went 7 2/3 innings, scattering four hits and a run, walking none and striking out seven.
In five starts this postseason, Lester is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA, giving up two earned runs or fewer each time out. His only loss was 1-0 in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series against the Tigers.
Lester admitted that channeling his adrenaline isn't as easy as it he makes it look.
"It doesn't matter how many games at this stage you play, your nerves are going, your heart rate is going," said Lester. "It's just a matter of once you kind of settle in, realizing, like I said yesterday, it's baseball, fastball down and away. In Game 5 of the World Series, that's just as effective as Feb. 1."
Presumably, Lester's run is over this October, unless the Red Sox need him in relief in a potential Game 7. Making his performance even more impressive, Lester was dealing with tightness in his back.
"I feel like it's Oct. 28," said Lester. "There's stuff that you just kind of try to have to battle through. We've got 25, 28, however many guys in that dugout that are relying on you to go out and pitch innings, and whatever it is now, you've got to put on the back burner, just like [Clay Buchholz] did yesterday. We've got three months to recover. The time is now. We've got to win now, and that's all you can really do. That's all you can really focus on."
Farrell deemed that Lester's night was finished at 91 pitches, as he thanked the lefty for a job well done and went to indomitable closer Koji Uehara for the final four outs. With the tying run at the plate when Uehara came on in the eighth, he struck out Matt Adams on three pitches.
If Uehara has seemed almost robotic in the way he mows down the opposition, he is still grinding it out pitch by pitch.
"I am just a regular human being," Uehara said.
The save was his seventh of the postseason, tying the record shared by John Wetteland, Troy Percival, Robb Nen and Brad Lidge. If there is another save for Uehara this month, it would be the one that wins the World Series for Boston.
Meanwhile, no matter which team wins, Fenway Park will be where the World Series ends for the first time since 1975. The Red Sox are aiming for their third World Series title since 2004, while trying to prevent the Cards from winning their third since '06.
"The fact is we're going home," said Farrell. "We're going back to a place that our guys love to play in, in front of our fans. This atmosphere here, these three games, has been phenomenal. We know it's going to be equal to that, if not better. And we're excited about going home in the position we are."
The last time the Sox won a World Series at home? That would be 1918.
"We can't wait to get home," Pedroia said. "We love playing at home -- there's nothing like it. We're one win away from winning the World Series."
Through the first six innings Monday, it seemed neither ace was going to blink. The only difference was that Wainwright came into the seventh with 86 pitches while Lester was at only 69.
And perhaps that helped the Boston bats seize control in the top of the seventh. Top prospect Xander Bogaerts started the rally with a one-out single up the middle. Then came a critical at-bat, as the slumping Stephen Drew was able to work a walk. Perhaps Drew's flyout to deep right in his previous at-bat was just enough to make Wainwright be a little more careful.
"My at-bat before that, I had a good at-bat and sort of was picking the ball up better," said Drew. "Just battling. It's 1-2 and 2-2, and he made some tough pitches. I was able to lay off."
Ross followed with his big double and the Red Sox had the lead.
"How about that? It's nice to drive in runs, that's really nice," said Ross. "Luckily I was able to get something in the zone and it just stayed fair. I was talking to it really well."
Jacoby Ellsbury, who has had a quiet World Series, smacked an RBI single up the middle that scored Drew. Ross was thrown out at the plate to end the inning, but Lester had a 3-1 lead.
The Red Sox came out with a quick burst of offense in the first, as Pedroia rifled a one-out double into the corner in left and Ortiz brought him home with a double down the line in right.
Wainwright gave no thought to pitching around Ortiz.
"I don't like walking anybody," Wainwright said. "We've got a guy on second already, it's the first inning. He hit a good pitch. He's out of his mind hot right now. That was my call before the game; I said, 'I'm not pitching around Ortiz. I'm going to get him out.' He hit a good pitch, made a good swing."
Aside from the pair of doubles, Wainwright was nasty in the early going. The first six outs he recorded were all on strikeouts.
Lester had his good stuff early as well, limiting the Cardinals to two singles over the first three innings.
In the fourth, Matt Holliday hit a towering solo blast onto the berm in center to tie the game. Carlos Beltran nearly made it back-to-back homers, but his shot to left was flagged down by Jonny Gomes in front of the wall in left-center. The inning ended on a bullet by Yadier Molina that Drew made a tremendous leaping catch on.
Lester then settled right back into his groove -- the one he's been in for the entire month. His four wins in this postseason tie his friend and former teammate Josh Beckett (2007) for a team record.
"Jon, he came up to the big leagues at a time where we were going to the playoffs and winning World Series," said Ortiz. "And as a young player, he's always looking around and trying to improve himself and get better. As a player, he told me straight up that he was going to be the future of the organization, the ace. And there he is, doing what he does at his best."
The Red Sox go home knowing what is left to do.
"It's a tough spot when you get to 3-2, because you know you're close -- that's the biggest challenge," Ortiz said. "You've got to come back on Wednesday and continue playing the way we have."