ST. LOUIS — David Ortiz is pretty much a lock to take the Most Valuable Player Award for the World Series, even if the Boston Red Sox don’t win the title.
In the MVP battle, non-Big Papi Division, Jon Lester has a huge lead and he’s a huge reason the Boston Red Sox are one win away from another championship.
The left-hander was brilliant Monday night in beating St. Louis ace Adam Wainwright, tossing 7∏ innings for the second time in the series as the Red Sox clipped the Cardinals, 3-1, in Game Five at Busch Stadium.
Ortiz went 3 for 4 with an RBI double in the first - pushing his Series ledger to an XBox-like 11 for 15 - and Boston broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh on catcher David Ross’ ground-rule double.
The Red Sox now lead the series, three games to two, heading back to Fenway Park for Game Six on Wednesday night. They can win their third title in the last 10 years with a victory - and wrap up one in their home park for the first time since 1918.
Lester retired 11 in a row and 16 out of 17 in one stretch, interrupted only by Matt Holliday’s 423-foot homer to center field with one out in the fourth. That tied the game at 1-1 but the Cardinals didn’t get another baserunner until David Freese’s one-out double in the eighth.
Lester scattered four hits, struck out seven, walked none and threw 61 of 91 pitches for strikes.
“I just told Jonny Gomes in the clubhouse that you show up Feb. 1, play 162 games and we’re probably at 180 now total and it comes down to one more,” Lester said. “Pretty special time. We just have to go out and keep playing baseball the way we have all year.”
Lester had a streak of 16∏ scoreless World Series innings in his career until the Holliday home run. He blanked the Colorado Rockies over 5∏ innings in Boston’s Game Four clincher in 2007, and was pretty much unhittable in Boston’s 8-1 win in the opener. So it’s three career Series starts, 21 innings and just one run.
“I knew we had a good chance to do something special today,” said Ross. “His bullpen was phenomenal before the game. His cutter was probably as good as I’ve caught all year.”
Lester joined Jim Lonborg (1967), Luis Tiant (1975) and Bruce Hurst (1986) as the only Boston pitchers since 1918 to win two games in a single World Series.
“Your nerves are going, your heart rate is going,” Lester said. “But once you settle in, it’s baseball. A fastball down and in Game Five of the World Series is just as effective as it is Feb. 1.”
Wainwright had a 6.09 ERA in the first inning during the regular season - and a mark of 2.43 for the rest of the game. He’s been true to that pattern in this series as well, struggling out of the gate with trouble that belies his status as a 19-game winner.
In Game One, he was torched by Mike Napoli’s three-run double in the first inning and the Cards never recovered as they lost.
He found more trouble Monday as he gave up a one-out double to Dustin Pedroia and inexplicably gave Ortiz a first-pitch fastball that was immediately deposited down the line in right for another double and a quick 1-0 lead.
“I was born for this,” was Ortiz’s blunt explanation of his series.
“What planet is that guy from? The guy’s a postseason stud, a stud in general,” Ross said. “That’s why we call him ‘Cooperstown’. He does Hall of Fame stuff on a regular basis around here.”
Wainwright had his sharp curveball going and struck out 10 batters in this one before Boston finally got to him in the seventh. He lost despite becoming the first Cardinals pitcher with a double-figure strikeout game in a World Series since Bob Gibson in 1968.
Rookie Xander Bogaerts singled with one out and Wainwright then made his critical mistake with a walk of light-hitting shortstop Stephen Drew, who was just 1 for 14 in the series and 4 for 49 in the postseason to that point.
Wainwright got ahead of Ross, 1 and 2, but made a mistake on a 79-mph curvebal and the Boston catcher pulled the ball down the left-field line to drive in the go-ahead run. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with an RBI single.
Home teams are 21-3 in either Game Six or Seven in the World Series since 1982, and no one has dropped both games in their park since Baltimore did to Pittsburgh in 1979.
If the Red Sox keep that trend going, there’s going to be one giant party in Beantown in the next couple of days.