Text by Paul Doyle, Hartford Courant; video by Tim Lammers, Fox CT
ST. LOUIS — After nearly seven months of disproving doubters, the Red Sox are on the verge of the ultimate answer for all those who have underestimated them.
All that stands between them and a World Series title is 27 outs. With a tidy 3-1 win over the Cardinals in Game 5 Monday night at Busch Stadium, the Red Sox have a firm grasp on the Series as they return to Fenway Park.
They will bid for their eighth championship Wednesday night, when veteran John Lackey opposes rookie sensation Michael Wacha in Game 6. If a Game 7 is necessary, the team will play on Halloween night.
The Red Sox need one victory on the field where they had an American League-best home record of 53-28.
“The fact is we’re going home,” manager John Farrell said. “Going back to a place that our guys love to play in, in front of our fans. This atmosphere [at Busch Stadium], 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 Red Sox took a 3-2 lead in the series on the back of Jon Lester, who allowed four hits and one run — a home run by Matt Holliday — over 7¿2/3¿ innings. He outperformed Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright and solidified his place as one of the great October pitchers in baseball.
Consider his postseason numbers: 6-4, 2.11 ERA in 13 appearances, 3-0, 0.43 in three World Series starts. His six victories tied him with Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez for most in franchise history and he won his second game in the series.
This win was perhaps the most important of his career. It followed a gritty performance by Clay Buchholz in a Game 4 victory that evened the series and put to rest any residual impact from the gut-wrenching loss in Game 3.
That game ended with an obstruction call against third baseman Will Middlebrooks and gave the Cardinals a 2-1 edge in the series. But the Red Sox gathered themselves and regrouped. A dugout pep talk by Ortiz midway through Game 4 helped spark a victory that ended with a pickoff.
In Game 4, there was no odd ending. Koji Uehara recorded the last four outs, ending the game with a fly out. It was over in 2 hours, 52 minutes and the Red Sox were calmly preparing for their flight home.
“It’s no surprise … We’ve been doing this all year,” shortstop Stephen Drew said. “This team is very professional.”
Drew, who has played sparkling defense throughout the postseason, was 4-for-49 before working a walk following Xander Bogaerts’ single in the seventh inning. Drew fell behind 1-and-2 in the count, but he did not chase a few breaking balls and he earned the base.
Then catcher David Ross hit a run-scoring ground-rule double to left. Jacoby Ellsbury later delivered a run with a single, although Ross was thrown out at the plate. But it didn’t matter because the two runs gave Boston the lead and that was all Lester and Uehera needed.
“I’m seeing the ball better and I’m just battling,” Drew said. “Laying off some tough pitches. [Bogaerts] getting on there and myself, and then [Ross] coming up big … it changed the game.”
Uehara entered the game with a runner on second after David Freese doubled and he struck out pinch-hitter Matt Adams on three pitches. He retired the side in order in the ninth for the save.
“Every time he walks to the mound, it’s one of the most calm innings that we’ll watch, regardless of the stage, regardless of the importance of the game,” Farrell said. “He gets a quick strikeout of Adams, which kind of helps conserve the number of pitches he’s got to throw overall. And on the third consecutive day, we felt like four outs was probably the max for him. Still, he’s been outstanding.”
The Red Sox scored off Wainwright in the first, when Dustin Pedroia and Ortiz hit consecutive doubles. Ortiz had three hits, continuing his match toward series MVP. He is 11-for-15 (.733) in the series and 20-for-42 (.476) in 13 career World Series games.
“That’s what he lives for, he lives for this stuff,” outfielder Shane Victorino said. “Papi thrives in this environment. … We say, we’re going to get on his back. He’s done it continuously all year long, he’s done it the first round, he did it the last round. It’s been fun to watch. We got to keep going now. “
Ortiz is having a series for the ages, not only putting a stranglehold on series MVP but playing himself deeper into the Hall of Fame discussion. His teammates have been affectionately calling him “Cooperstown.”
A third World Series title will enhance his resume. It could happen over the next few days, as the Red Sox attempt to secure their first World Series at home since 1918.
“We’ve got ourselves in a position,” Pedroia said. “We’ve still got to come out and take it one pitch at a time because [the Cardinals] have a great pitching staff and they play the game the right way, so we’re still grinding.”