ST. LOUIS – The palpable sense of strangeness that permeated Busch Stadium on Saturday and Sunday finally relented Monday. There was no crazy ending. No weird play. Nothing to remind us that Halloween is but days away and the spirits had brewed something wicked over the weekend. Just another close baseball game between St. Louis and Boston that left the Red Sox with two chances at home to win their eighth World Series.
Boston ace Jon Lester pitched 7 2/3 brilliant innings, continuing his run of superlative pitching throughout these playoffs, and David Ross' RBI double in the seventh gave the Red Sox a lead they would not relinquish during a 3-1 victory in Game 5 of the World Series at Busch Stadium.
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Lester, who cinched the Red Sox's last championship with a Game 4 win in 2007 as a rookie, turned in a performance almost as good as his 7 2/3 shutout innings in Game 1 of this series. He allowed just four hits, struck out seven, didn't walk a batter and worked around a pair of impediments: his complete inability to swing a bat and a massive paper airplane that looked to derail his concentration.
The airplane, an aerodynamic wonder thrown from the lower bowl during Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina's at-bat in the seventh inning, landed near the mound after Lester had thrown a pitch. He calmly picked it up, handed it to a batboy and returned to work like nothing had happened, retiring Molina on a line drive to second base.
Lester's inability to bat, on the other hand, nearly cost Boston a run. After Ross broke a 1-1 tie with a ground-rule double off Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright that scored rookie Xander Bogaerts, Lester came to the plate with runners on second and third. He was 0 for 35 career at the plate, and instead of pinch-hitting for him, Boston manager John Farrell let him swing. Lester broke his bat, tapped the ball back to Wainwright and left the Red Sox in need of a clutch hit to pad their lead.
Jacoby Ellsbury provided it, dumping a single into center field that plated shortstop Stephen Drew, whom Wainwright had walked despite his 4-for-49 postseason. Though Ross was thrown out at home, the two-run cushion provided ample room for the Red Sox.
They had survived the early onslaught by Wainwright, whose first six outs came via strikeout. Boston did get to him early, with David Ortiz – who is now hitting .733 in the World Series after a 3-for-4 night made him 11 for 15 – doubling home Dustin Pedroia. The lone blemish for Lester came on a monster home run to center field by Matt Holliday, who has accounted for the only two homers from St. Louis this series. His teammates are homerless in 146 other at-bats.
It leaves the Cardinals facing a pair of must-win games at Fenway Park with rookie Michael Wacha and Joe Kelly on the mound. Losing with Wainwright looking so much better than he did in Game 1 – he struck out 10, walked one and went seven innings – leaves St. Louis with far less hope than it had after winning Game 3 on an obstruction call.
There was none of that Monday – no crazy ending with people scrambling, no player picked off to send the crowd home for the night as with Game 4. No other odd endings like a balk or a replayable home run or whatever the baseball gods cared to gift this series.
Just Koji Uehara getting the final out on a lineout to right by Holliday. And the Red Sox coming that much closer to their third championship in a decade.