ST. LOUIS – Jon Lester pitched the Boston Red Sox within a whisker of yet another World Series championship.
Lester — a former standout at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma — 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 lead in the best-of-seven Series.
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 title in a decade. Not since 1918 has Boston won a World Series at its own ballpark.
“The fact is, we’re going home,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Going back to a place that our guys love to play in, in front of our fans.
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“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.”
John Lackey gets the first chance to clinch the title Wednesday night against St. Louis rookie sensation Michael Wacha. A Cardinals victory would set up a Game 7 on Thursday in Boston.
Ortiz is 11 for 15 (.733) in this Series with two homers, six runs batted in and four walks. He left after legging out a hit, and Farrell said the slugger is OK.
Lester, 29, enhanced his reputation as an October ace with virtually every pitch. He allowed one run and four hits in 72
3 innings, striking out seven without a walk. He had a similar line in beating Wainwright in the opener and has an earned-run average of 0.59 for the two games.
“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 has won all three of his career World Series starts had one scary inning, when Matt Holliday homered in the fourth, Carlos Beltran flied out to the wall and Yadier Molina hit a liner.
“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.”
Koji Uehara got four outs for his second save. No crazy endings this time, either, after one night with an obstruction call that went against Boston and the next with Uehara’s game-finishing pickoff.
The Cardinals went quickly in the ninth, and need two victories in Boston. They overcame a 3-2 deficit to beat Texas for the 2011 title, but that time the last two games were in St. Louis.
“The guys know what we have to do,” Cardinals 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.”
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 National League 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 snapped 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 have 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 pop-ups 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 161
3 scoreless innings in 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 Cardinals.
Wainwright struck out 10 in seven innings, becoming the first St. Louis pitcher to reach double digits in the Series since Bob Gibson did it twice in 1968 against Detroit.