ST. LOUIS — They are coming home to win the World Series at Fenway Park for the first time since young lefty Babe Ruth partied at the Hotel Buckminster after Carl Mays beat the Cubs Sept. 11, 1918.
Boston’s modern day southpaw, Jon Lester, hurled 7⅔ innings of four-hit ball in a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals Monday night, sending the pulsating 2013 Series back to Boston with the Red Sox holding a three-games-to-two lead.
The Sox have two chances to win their third World Series since 2004. It would be the city of Boston’s eighth title since Adam Vinatieri split the uprights in New Orleans in 2002. Game 6 is Wednesday night with John Lackey getting the ball against 22-year-old Michael Wacha. If the Sox fail in Game 6, they can wrap it up Thursday on Halloween. The Green Monster Mash.
They were in this position in the bad old days of 1986 when they led the Mets three-games-to-two, only to lose a couple of heartbreakers at Shea Stadium (remember Bill Buckner?). But those were the Cursed Sox of desperation and disappointment. Everything has changed.
The Sox of 2013 have David Ortiz, the latter-day Bambino, who can win his third championship for the Sox, just like the Babe. They have players such as Lester, Dustin Pedroia, and Jacoby Ellsbury, who were Sox champions in 2007. They have the Brotherhood of the Beard, including Jonny Gomes, who was the hero Sunday, and David Ross, who cracked the game-winning hit Monday night. They have indomitable closer Koji Uehara. They have the mojo. They have the magic.
They even have Mike Carp. As in Carpe Diem.
“We’re going back to a place our guys love to play in, in front of our fans,’’ said Sox manager John Farrell. “We’re excited about going home in the position we are in.’’
“Our fans are baseball fans,’’ said Ortiz. “They know the game and they love how we’ve been going at it every day and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be pretty loud out there.’’
After two nights of chaotic finishes at Busch Stadium, we wondered how Game 5 would end. Triple play, perhaps? Human sacrifice?
No. This was the first tidy game of the 2013 Fall Classic. It was a pitchers’ duel between Lester and Adam Wainwright (10 strikeouts), and it was won by the grinders at the bottom of the Sox batting order who pushed across a couple of runs in the seventh inning.
The game was played on the sixth anniversary of Lester’s Series-clinching performance in Colorado in 2007 — he was 23. Lester pitched 5⅔ innings of shutout ball that night at Coors Field. Last night, he was a grown-up mound master, overpowering the Cardinals, striking out seven and walking none. With two out in the eighth, he turned the ball over to Uehara, who retired all four batters he faced. Lester has thrown more pitches than anyone in baseball this year.
“We’ve got three months to recover,’’ said Lester. “The time is now. We’ve got to win now.’’
The Sox broke through with a run in the first when Ortiz cracked a first-pitch double down the right-field line after Pedroia had doubled to left. The pitch to Ortiz was an astounding demonstration of Cardinal arrogance or stupidity. Or maybe it was just a mistake. For 24 hours, we’d been hearing that the Cardinals absolutely would not, could not, let Ortiz beat them. And then in the first inning, they didn’t even attempt to pitch around Papi with first base open. Boston’s ageless designated hitter is simply scalding.
“We’re gonna make tough pitches and sometimes we get more of the plate than we’re looking to get,’’ said St. Louis manager Mike Matheny, who has not had a good Series.
Ortiz singled on an 0-1 pitch to lead off the fourth, lifting his World Series average to .769 (10 for 12). It marked the ninth consecutive time he reached base. The streak was snapped when Ortiz lined to center in the sixth.
“I’m being honest. I was born for this,’’ Ortiz said.
Papi is destined to be MVP of this Series. Indeed, he is MVP of the Sox playoff run. Ortiz’s grand slam in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the ALCS against Detroit forever will be the signature moment of Boston baseball’s October of 2013. His dugout pep talk Sunday triggered the Sox winning rally in Game 4. Oh, and he’s hitting .733 through five games. A reporter asked Matheny if Ortiz is going to be MVP of the Series. Fortunately for all, Matheny did not lunge at the man.
Lester hasn’t been bad, either. He beat the Cardinals in Game 1 and he was working on a string of 16⅔ consecutive scoreless World Series innings when Matt Holliday homered on a 1-0 pitch in the fourth. Holliday’s shot onto the grassy knoll beyond the wall in center tied the game, 1-1.
It stayed tied until Sox broke through with the winning runs in the seventh. Red Sox Future, 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts, started the winning rally with single up the middle. Then Wainwright walked Stephen Drew, who was 4 for 49 in the postseason. Ross, who suffered a concussion and hit .216 this year, was next and he turned on a 1-2 pitch and hit an RBI ground-rule double into the corner in left.
“There’s a reason I hit in the eight hole or the nine hole,’’ said Ross. “I’m not very good at hitting . . . We’re really excited about this win, but we know there’s a lot of work to do. They’re not giving up. We know how good they are. That’s why we’re here. We’re going to have to bring our A game like we have when we’ve won.’’
The Sox got their third run when Ellsbury, who was in the throes of 0 for 8 and 3 for 19 slumps, dumped a single into center, scoring Drew. Ross was waved home and thrown out at the plate, but the Sox had a two-run lead with Lester and Koji ready. St. Louis hadn’t lost two straight at home since the second week of August, but this game was over.
“You know you are close to a World Series championship,’’ said Ortiz. “That’s the biggest challenge. We’ve got to come back Wednesday and continue playing the way we have.’’