Jon Lester’s mastery, efficiency carry Red Sox to edge of glory, push Cardinals to brink

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ST. LOUIS — We thought of Game 1 as a battle of aces. It didn’t turn out that way. Game 5, however, gave us what we had been expecting. Adam Wainwright vs. Jon Lester and this time they were both on their game. But Jon Lester was better than Wainwright and, just as importantly, was more efficient than his Cardinals counterpart. As a result the Red Sox beat the Cards 3-1 and now take a 3-2 series lead with them back to Boston with two shots at clinching their eighth World Series title.

Early on it didn’t look like Wainwright had made those post-Game 1 adjustments he had been talking about on Sunday. At least not against David Ortiz, who continues to carry the Sox on his back offensively. After allowing a one-out double to Dustin Pedroia, Wainwright inexplicably threw fastballs to Ortiz despite the fact such beasts had been murdered by this beast all series long. A hard double to right made it 1-0 and one would be forgiven if one thought that Wainwright’s night was destined to be a short one.

But then he settled down, retiring the next eight batters he faced. Ortiz singled off of him again in the fourth but nothing came of it. In the fifth two singles put runners on first and second before Wainwright bore down and struck out Lester — who looked helpless trying to bunt and has yet to get a major league hit in over 30 plate appearances — and sat down Jacoby Ellsbury as well.  In the sixth Wainwright even retired Ortiz. It was the first time anyone had done so since early in Game 3. Through six Wainwright had struck out nine while scattering five hits.

Lester matched him frame for frame through six, striking out seven and needing only 69 pitches to do it. He was hit harder at times — his big mistake was allowing a 423-foot homer to Matt Holliday in the fourth — but the Cardinals, as has so often been the case this past week, were unable to string anything together. It left Lester in a position to stay in the game longer than any pitcher had so far in this series.

Wainwright had to work harder to get to the seventh and it was in the seventh where we finally saw the toll of his evening and, in all likelihood, the toll of his long season finally paid. After notching his tenth and final strikeout of the night, Wainwright gave up a single to Xander Bogaerts and walked the heretofore harmless Stephen Drew. A David Ross ground rule double plated Bogaerts and — because he had only thrown those 69 pitches through six — John Farrelll let Lester hit for himself. That didn’t work out — Lester bounced back to the pitcher — but Jacoby Ellsbury singled in Drew. David Ross was sent home as well, but he was nailed at the plate. Maybe. He was called out, though, ending the inning with the Sox up 3-1.

Letting Lester hit for himself bought John Farrell an inning and two thirds of his starter’s time, helping preserve a bullpen that was on fumes and likely without the services of Felix Doubront, who had pitched the previous two nights. As it was, Lester would retire the Cards in order in the seventh and get two outs in the eighth before being lifted for Koji Uehara who sealed the four-out save.

It was a masterful and powerful performance for Jon Lester, who allowed only four hits while not walking a batter in seven and two-thirds. More importantly, he powered his team to victory and on to Boston, where the Red Sox can pop champagne corks as soon as this time Wednesday night.

Manoah, Merrifield lead Blue Jays to 3-1 win over Rays

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Alek Manoah pitched seven shutout innings, Whit Merrifield hit a three-run homer and the Toronto Blue Jays regained the top AL wild-card spot with a 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night.

The Blue Jays lead Tampa Bay by one game. The top wild card finisher will host all games in their best-of-three opening-round series, while the other two wild cards play strictly on the road.

Manoah (15-7) scattered four hits, walked two and struck out eight while throwing a season-high 113 pitches. The righty worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the sixth by striking out Randy Arozarena and getting a flyout from David Peralta.

Jordan Romano replaced Tim Mayza with two on and two outs in the eighth and allowed pinch-hitter Harold Ramirez‘s RBI infield single but avoided further damage by striking out Manuel Margot. Romano finished the game to get his 35th save in 41 chances.

Tampa Bay starter Drew Rasmussen (10-7) gave up one run, three hits and two walks in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out five.

The teams combined for 31 runs, with the Rays accounting for 20, in the first two games of the series that were both won by Tampa Bay.

Arozarena got the Rays’ first hit off Manoah with a two-out double in the fourth. He became the first Tampa Bay player and 20th big leaguer to have 40 doubles, 20 homers and 30 stolen bases in a season.

Teoscar Hernandez ended Rasmussen’s night with a double in the seventh. Brooks Raley entered and, after a walk to pinch-hitter Danny Jansen, Merrifield made it 3-0 on his 10th homer of the season.

Merrifield homered twice in Thursday night’s 10-5 loss to the Rays.

Alejandro Kirk opened the second with a single before Rasmussen retired 12 in a row until Merrifield’s leadoff double in the sixth.

Plate umpire Corey Blaser took a hard foul ball by Margot on the mask in the eighth but remained in the game.

HONORING KK

The Rays posted a thank you on the message board for CF Kevin Kiermaier, who is out for the season following left hip surgery. Kiermaier is in the final season of a $53.5 million, six-year contract that includes a club option for 2023 that is expected to be declined.

TEAM AWARDS

Rays ace Shane McClanahan was voted the Don Zimmer MVP award winner by members of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. CF Jose Siri was selected as the outstanding rookie. 3B Yandy Diaz received the Paul C. Smith Champions award as the player who best exemplifies the spirit of true professionalism on and off the field.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (lat strain) allowed three runs and three hits over two-thirds of an inning for Triple-A Buffalo.

Rays: 2B Brandon Lowe (lower back) is done for the season.

UP NEXT

McClanahan (12-6), pulled from his start Tuesday in the fifth inning due to neck tightness, will face Blue Jays RHP Ross Stripling (8-4) on Sunday.