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.