Jon Lester put his name among other Red Sox legends with an outstanding Game 5 performance that has Boston one win away from its third World Series title since 2004.
Lester retired 12 straight at one point Monday and Boston scored twice in the seventh to take a pivotal 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
It was the fourth consecutive game decided by two runs or less in this roller- coaster Fall Classic, with the Red Sox taking the last two on the road for a 3-2 series lead.
Lester (2-0) allowed only four hits, did not walk a batter and struck out seven over 7 2/3 innings to join Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez as the only Boston pitchers with six career postseason wins.
David Ross broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI double in the seventh, the sixth time in these playoffs the Red Sox have pushed across the go-ahead run in the sixth inning or later of a victory.
David Ortiz had another productive night for Boston, going 3-for-4 with an RBI to boost his average in the series to an otherworldly .733 (11-of-15). He matched Billy Hatcher’s World Series record by reaching base in nine straight plate appearances before lining out in the sixth.
Ortiz doubled in a run in the first inning against Adam Wainwright (0-2), who settled in after another slow start but faltered late to suffer his second loss of the series.
Like the setback in Game 1, the only run St. Louis mustered came on a Matt Holliday homer.
The series shifts back to Boston for Game 6 on Wednesday, with Michael Wacha squaring off against John Lackey in a rematch of Game 2 won by the Cardinals rookie.
Wainwright fanned 10 over seven frames and was charged with three runs on eight hits and one walk — the critical walk coming in the deciding frame.
Rookie standout Xander Bogaerts singled with one away in the seventh, and Stephen Drew, who was hitless in his previous 13 at-bats, worked a free pass after being down 1-2 in the count.
With his pitch count now over 100, Wainwright was laboring and missed his spot again on a 1-2 pitch. Ross hooked the errant curve ball just inside the left- field line and it bounced into the stands to push across the go-ahead run.
Bogaerts scored on the ground-rule double, and after Lester grounded out back to the mound, Jacoby Ellsbury sent a sinking liner to center to bring in Drew. Ross was thrown out at home by Shane Robinson, but the damage was done.
Lester, who faced criticism in the Game 1 aftermath when video revealed a strange substance in his glove, mowed down 12 straight hitters after Holliday took him deep in the fourth.
David Freese broke the string with a one-out double in the eighth, and Lester retired Pete Kozma on a flyout before being pulled for Koji Uehara, who fanned pinch-hitter Matt Adams and retired the side in order in the ninth for his seventh save of the postseason.
John Farrell slightly moved Boston’s lineup around, and the tweaks paid off early when Dustin Pedroia, batting second instead of third, lined an 0-2 breaking ball to the left-field wall for a two-bagger in the first inning.
Ortiz followed with a sharp ground ball past the first-base bag and Pedroia scored on the double, giving Ortiz 14 RBI in his World Series career to match Dwight Evans’ club record.
Lester cruised through the first three innings. The left-hander erased Carlos Beltran in the second on a double-play ball off the bat of a hobbled Allen Craig, then stranded Freese in scoring position an inning later by freezing Matt Carpenter with a payoff pitch.
After catching Robinson looking to start the fourth, Lester made his only costly mistake as Holliday got his hands inside a 93 m.p.h. fastball and muscled it to straightaway center for his second home run of the series.
The blast snapped Lester’s impressive scoreless innings streak in the Fall Classic, which was at 13 1/3 innings coming into the game.
Beltran flew out to the wall three pitches later, and Drew made a leaping grab to rob Yadier Molina of a hit to end the fourth.