ST. LOUIS — In a crowded visiting clubhouse, David Ortiz found a corner to himself, somehow alone. Still in full uniform, he put his left foot on a chair and slowly removed an Ace bandage, then a towel, then a pack of ice. He propped up his right foot, and went through the same drill. He slid on a pair of Crocs. “I’m old,” he said.
But how would you know? How would you know, for that matter, that Jon Lester had stared down cancer? Here they were, two of the Boston Red Sox’ linchpins, absolutely controlling the fifth game of the World Series at Busch Stadium, a completely-in-command 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that put the Red Sox on the brink of their third championship in a decade.
Ortiz, at 37, continued to author one of the best World Series performances of all time, going 3 for 4 with an RBI double — making him an astonishing 11 for 15 in these five games. He has, quite honestly, crippled the St. Louis pitchers. When do they pitch to him? And if they do, how?
“What planet’s that guy from?” asked Boston catcher David Ross, who delivered the game-winning hit. He was half-kidding. “. . . He’s David Ortiz. The guy’s a postseason stud. He’s a stud in general. That’s why we call him ‘Cooperstown,’ because he does Hall of Fame stuff.”
Lester provided dominance from the other side, tossing 72 / 3 innings and yielding four hits, one run and no walks to beat fellow ace Adam Wainwright and send the Red Sox back to Boston with a three-games-to-two lead. He struck out seven and responded to his one blemish — Matt Holliday’s game-tying homer in the fourth — by retiring the next 12 Cardinals, needing just 91 pitches to get 23 outs.
“You’re kind of looking around going, ‘Whoa, what’s going on now?’ ” Lester said. “But settled back in, got back into a rhythm, and things were good after that.”
In 2007, when he closed out a Boston sweep by winning Game 4 in Colorado, Lester was barely removed from defeating non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Now, he is 29, five times a 15-game winner, the man the Red Sox chose to start the first game of each of their postseason series. He responded by going 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA.
“That’s the epitome of what the ace of a staff is all about,” said Ryan Dempster, the veteran Red Sox right-hander.
And Ortiz is the epitome of what a postseason hitter should be. The problems he presents were apparent from the very first inning Monday. Boston Manager John Farrell moved Ortiz from cleanup to the third spot in the lineup for Game 5, guaranteeing him an appearance in the first. Dustin Pedroia, moved from third up to second, opened with a one-out double to left off Wainwright, and that brought up Ortiz.
A night earlier, in a tie game, the Cardinals had elected to pitch around Ortiz, issuing four straight balls in the sixth. Wainwright didn’t consider such a strategy Monday.
“It’s the first inning,” Wainwright said. “As hot as he is, in my mind, I can get anyone out. I still believe that.”
He tried to get a cut fastball in on Ortiz, and Ortiz went and got it, driving it down the first base line. Pedroia scored, and nine pitches into the game, the Red Sox led 1-0. After two singles the rest of the night, Ortiz’s stats in this series can’t quite be comprehended: a .733 average, .789 on-base percentage and 1.267 slugging percentage.
As hot as he’s ever been?
“I did it like 20 times this year,” Ortiz said. “I was born for this.”
As was Lester, and his placid, nearly perfect performance allowed the Red Sox to cobble together the winning rally off Wainwright, one that somehow came together without Ortiz. With one out in the seventh, rookie Xander Bogaerts singled, and then came the at-bat Wainwright might want back.
Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew entered his at-bat in the seventh with two hits in his past 40 at-bats, a staggering .050 average. Yet here, in the seventh, he took two close, two-strike pitches from Wainwright — and walked.
“They were balls,” Wainwright said.
That brought it to Ross, essentially the backup catcher but one who has worked brilliantly with Lester. Lester, hitless in 35 career at-bats, waited behind him, but Ross came through, sending a 1-2 curveball from Wainwright to left, where it one-hopped into the stands for a double that scored Bogaerts. Jacoby Ellsbury followed with a single to center to make it 3-1, and even though Ross was thrown out at the plate, the Red Sox were in an enormously comfortable position.
They were comfortable because Lester needed no bridge to get to closer Koji Uehara, who struck out pinch hitter Matt Adams on three pitches to end the eighth, then worked a perfect ninth. They were comfortable because Ortiz seemingly never makes an out. And, most of all, they were comfortable because they head back to Boston, leading the World Series.
“I’ve been playing this game for too long,” Ortiz said later. He has at least one more game this year. Win it, and he’s a champion again.