Jon Lester pitched the Boston Red Sox within a whisker of yet another World Series championship.
Lester bested Adam Wainwright once again, journeyman David Ross hit a tiebreaking double in the seventh inning and the Red Sox downed the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Monday night to take a 3-2 Series edge.
David Ortiz delivered his latest big hit, too, sending this bearded band of Red Sox back to Fenway Park with a chance to clinch their third crown in a decade. Not since 1918 has Boston won the title at its own ballpark.
"The fact is we're going home," manager John Farrell said. "Going back to a place that our guys love to play in, in front of our fans."
"This atmosphere here, these three games, has been phenomenal. We know it's going to be equal to that, if not better. And we're excited about going home in the position we are," he said.
John Lackey gets the first chance to win it Wednesday night against St. Louis rookie sensation Michael Wacha. A Cardinals victory would set up a most spooky proposition for both teams — Game 7 on Halloween night.
Ortiz enjoyed even more success in Game 5 after moving up from cleanup to the third slot. He is 11 for 15 (.733) in this Series with two homers, six RBIs and four walks. He left after legging out a hit, and Farrell said the slugger is OK.
Lester enhanced his reputation as an October ace with every pitch. He allowed one run and four hits in 7 2-3 innings, striking out seven without a walk. Nearly the same line he had in beating Wainwright in the opener.
"I think the biggest thing is me and Rossy have had a good rhythm," Lester said. "Early on, we just went back to our game plan from Game 1 and just fell back on that and really just tried to make them swing the bats early, and we were able to do that."
The lefty who's won all three of his career World Series starts had just one scary inning, when Matt Holliday homered in the fourth, Carlos Beltran flied out to the wall and Yadier Molina hit a liner. Other than that, Lester was sharp as a knife.
"He's just a stud," said Ross, the backup catcher who gets paired with Lester. "We rely on him. That's why he's the ace of our staff, because he goes out and pitches like that."
Lester's biggest brush with major trouble came well before his first pitch. He was getting loose near the warning track when a team of eight Clydesdales pulling a beer wagon came trotting by — it's a Busch Stadium tradition and Lester stood aside to watch the horses.
Koji Uehara got four outs for his second save. No crazy endings this time, either, following one night with an obstruction call and the next with Uehara's game-finishing pickoff.
The Cardinals went quickly in the ninth, and now need two wins in Boston. They overcame a 3-2 deficit at home to beat Texas for the 2011 title.
"The guys know what we have to do," manager Mike Matheny said. "We have to play the game. They have to lock arms, trust each other and play the game the right way. Most of it is going to be the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds. And go out and play the game."
Ortiz put Boston ahead with an RBI double in the first, hitting the first pitch after Dustin Pedroia doubled on an 0-2 curve. Ortiz singled the next time up and tied the Series record by reaching base in nine straight plate appearances.
Big Papi and the Red Sox took two of three at the NL park despite playing without a designated hitter. Ortiz became the first baseman, putting slugger Mike Napoli on the bench.
The Red Sox lead the Series despite a .205 team batting average. Ortiz has 11 of the team's 33 hits.
Ross, a graybeard on a team led by scraggly veterans, broke a 1-all tie when he hooked a drive just inside the left-field line, and the ball bounced into the seats for a go-ahead double.
"How about that? It's nice to drive in runs," Ross said. "I've got to credit the guys in front of me."
Jacoby Ellsbury later hit an RBI single, and Ross was thrown out at the plate trying to score on the play.
A day after Ortiz delivered a stirring, in-game pep talk to rev up the Red Sox, the Cardinals could've used some inspiration themselves — perhaps a visit from the good-luck Rally Squirrel from their 2011 title run.
The St. Louis hitters went quietly, a couple slinging their bats after routine popups and fly balls and others questioning the solid calls by plate umpire Bill Miller.
Holliday shook St. Louis' slumber and broke Lester's string with his second home run of the Series. Lester had pitched 16 1-3 scoreless innings in his first three World Series starts before Holliday tagged him.
That was all St. Louis got. Not even a revamped lineup that included the hobbled Allen Craig helped the Cards.
Wainwright changed things the next time Ortiz came up, varying his tempo and delivery. Ortiz still hit it hard while lining out to center.
Wainwright struck out 10 in seven innings, becoming the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in the Series since Bob Gibson did it twice in 1968 against Detroit.
It was a big sports night in St. Louis, with an NFL game between the Rams and Seattle eight blocks away at the Edward Jones Dome. This is a baseball town, clearly: Football tickets sold for $10 on StubHub as kickoff approached, and fans inside the dome loudly booed when the World Series game was taken off the video board.
The baseball fans got to see Lester do more than pitch. He helped himself in the field, knocking down a hard comebacker and swiftly handling a bunt. He also made a dent with his bat, sort of.
Coming in with a career 0-for-31 mark at the plate, he nubbed a ball in front of the plate and was thrown out leading off the third. But at least he broke Wainwright's string of five straight strikeouts, one shy of the postseason record tied by Detroit's Justin Verlander against Boston in the AL championship series.
NOTES: A splinter from Daniel Nava's broken bat stuck in his neck when he grounded into a double play to end the Boston fourth. He stayed in the game. ... The Red Sox struck out 14 times, raising their total to a postseason-record 156. Boston began the day with 142, tied with the 2010 champion Giants. ... RF Shane Victorino was again out of the Red Sox lineup because of lower back stiffness.