If Games 3 & 4 of the battle between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals were filled with decisions, nuance and room for scrutiny and second-guessing then 2013 World Series Game 5 was one that was simply about the battle. It was Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright, the two aces of each staff and each pitching like it. The Red Sox found just enough offense to win 3-1 and move to within one win of claiming what has been an outstanding Fall Classic.
Wainwright struck out ten through seven innings, while Lester went 7.2 IP for the second time in the Series. Through six innings, each had been touched only by a quick burst. Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hit back-to-back doubles in the first inning to produce the Boston run. Matt Holliday hit a long home run to dead center to tie it up in the fourth. These are the only three players doing anything offensively on a consistent basis in the Series, and the game turned into a tense battle to see which lineup could give their ace some help.
The answer was the bottom of the Boston order. Xander Boegarts singled, and then Stephen Drew earned a walk. I say “earned”, because the at-bat was hardly a case of Wainwright losing his control. It was a tough at-bat with the walk coming on a full count.
David Ross then delivered the biggest hit of the game. It was a line drive double down the left field line. The ball narrowly stayed fair–a break for the Red Sox–and then it hopped into the seats–a break for the Cardinals, since it meant Drew couldn’t score. Even though there was only one out, the pitcher’s spot was up next.
Lester harmlessly tapped it back to the pitcher, and with two outs, the Cardinals were poised to keep it a one-run game. Jacoby Ellsbury, the leadoff man, who has been completely shut down, finally produced. It was a bloop into center, hardly an inspiring display of offensive force, but at this time of year, no one cares. The ball fell and Boston had a big additional run.
Koji Uehara came on and got the final four outs for the win. There’s nothing to second-guess or scrutinize. If you’re simply a baseball fan, without a dog in the fight, this was everything you want–a pivotal Game 5, both aces on the mound, both pitching like aces, both teams’ hitting stars coming through and a taut ending.
Tuesday is a travel day, with Game 6 going on Wednesday and a potential Game 7 on Thursday, both 8 PM ET start times on Fox. With the Series back in Fenway Park for both games, the question is, how big is the Boston advantage?
Recent history suggests it is substantial, and what might be more surprising is that even applies had St. Louis won Game 5. Since 1995 (the first year of the three-round playoff format), the World Series has reached the back end seven times. In six of those, the team with homefield advantage has won it all. Just as notably, as those six are evenly split between teams that rallied from 3-2 down and teams that brought a series lead home and finished the job.
The composite record of home teams in these games is 9-2. The exceptions are the 1997 Cleveland Indians, who won Game 6 in Florida before losing in Game 7. The one case of a road team celebrating is the 2003 Florida Marlins, when Josh Beckett locked down the New York Yankees in the Bronx in Game 6. The last time a road team won two straight games on the road was the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, who rallied in Baltimore.
Every year has its own unique historical flow though. If you’re a St. Louis fan, you look at it this way–winning two straight on the road might be difficult, but even by a straight history test, it’s not some impossible-to-climb feat. Certainly, when compared to being down to your last strike in a Game 6 not once, but twice, as this basically same cast of players was in 2011, simply winning a couple games in Boston is easy by comparison.
And no history test can account for Michael Wacha, whose electric stuff and domination of this postseason is reminiscent of the 2003 Beckett. Wacha can’t clinch a title the way Beckett did, but the Cardinal rookie has his own chance to author a little history in a fabled venue on the East Coast.
Boston sends John Lackey to the mound on Wednesday night. Lackey has already won a World Series clincher–Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels, and this year he’s beaten David Price and Justin Verlander. Now he goes to take out the rising star from St. Louis to finish the job.