It went exactly as the Red Sox drew it up.
Jon Lester and Koji Uehara. Left-handed ace, right-handed stopper. Untouchable at the beginning of the game, unhittable at the end.
They combined for an overpowering four-hit performance against the Cardinals Monday night in Game 5, and the Red Sox offense did just enough to get the team back to Fenway Park with two chances to get the one victory they need for another World Series championship. David Ross and Jacoby Ellsbury came through with RBI hits in the seventh inning, breaking a 1-1 tie and giving the Red Sox a 3-1 victory at Busch Stadium and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Sox get their first chance to nail down the title Wednesday night in Game 6. The task facing the Cardinals is daunting: Only six teams in history have won the final two games on the road to win a World Series, and the last one to do it was the 1979 Pirates. (The others were the 1968 Tigers, 1958 Yankees, 1952 Yankees, 1934 Cardinals and 1926 Cardinals.)
The Sox had given Lester an early 1-0 lead, on back-to-back, one-out doubles by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz in the first. He held it until the fourth, when Matt Holliday cracked his second home run of the series, a shot to straightway center field that tied the score.
But, other than that, the Cardinal offense was virtually helpless against Lester. He retired the next 12 batters after the home run, until a one-out double by David Freese in the eighth. He was left in for one more batter, Pete Kozma, and got him a fly ball before he was lifted.
His line: 7 2/3 innings, 4 hits, 1 run, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts.
"That," said Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster, "is the epitome of an ace."
Ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling speculated on Twitter that Lester "tweaked a groin . . . [or] something lower body" in the sixth inning, but that he was "[pretty] sure [Lester] told the trainer to suck it when he came to talk to him." After the game manager John Farrell told the media that Lester was suffering from back tightness, so while Schilling had the injury wrong, he was right that something was amiss. And his conclusion -- "Gutted the final 2 [innings] out, hell of a game from 31" -- was just as apt.
Still, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright was almost as good over the first six innings and the game went to the seventh tied at 1-1. But Farrell had talked about "lengthening the lineup" with a new batting order, and his plan paid dividends -- big time -- in the seventh.
With one out, Xander Bogaerts cracked his second hit of the game, a single to center. The slumping Stephen Drew -- who had sent Cardinal right fielder Carlos Beltran to the wall with a long fly in the fifth -- worked Wainwright for a walk after falling behind in the count, 1-and-2. Improbable as that was, what followed was even more surprising: Ross cracked a run-scoring, ground-rule double to left, scoring Bogaerts and giving the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.
"It seems like it's a different guy every night that picks us up," said Lester. "That's kind of been the theme all year."
Lester, attempting to bunt, bunted foul with two strikes for the second out, but Ellsbury followed with a single to center. The Sox, however, got only one run out of it as Drew scored but Ross was thrown out at the plate by Shane Robinson for the third out. (Or at least plate umpire Bill Miller thought so; replays seemed to show that catcher Yadier Molina missed the tag.)
That lead stood up the rest of the way. Uehara was brought on after Lester retired Kozma in the eighth, and he struck out pinch-hitter Matt Adams for the final out of that inning. And, as usual, he retired the side 1-2-3 in the ninth for his second save of the Series and seventh of the postseason.
"Every time he walks to the mound, it's one of the most calm innings that we'll watch," Farrell said of his closer.
A calm inning that may set up an exciting night at Fenway on Wednesday.