It was a pitchers' duel in Game 5 of the World Series until the maligned bottom of the Boston Red Sox order came through late in the game. The Red Sox beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1, and the World Series returns to Fenway, where the Red Sox have a chance to clinch on their home field for the first time since 1918.
Hero: Jon Lester was brilliant again, with 7.2 innings of dominant baseball, blemished only by Matt Holliday's home run in the fourth inning off a 1-0 fastball. Most importantly, Lester threw an efficient 91 pitches and pitched deep enough to hand the ball directly to Koji Uehara. With Craig Breslow struggling to throw strikes in Game 4, John Farrell probably didn't have a lot of confidence in him. And with Felix Doubront probably unavailable after throwing 57 pitches the previous two games, the Boston bullpen wasn't comfortable going beyond Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.
Goat: Adam Wainwright's curveball. We all know his curveball is a thing of beauty to see and a terror for batters, who hit .171 against it in the regular season. In the postseason entering Game 5, batters were 8-for-43 (.186) with one double, two walks and 17 strikeouts against it. They know the curveball is coming and still have trouble hitting it. But his go-to pitch failed him on three occasions. In the first inning, he hung an 0-2 curve to Dustin Pedroia, who doubled and scored on David Ortiz's double. In the fateful seventh inning, he got ahead of Stephen Drew -- 4-for-49 in the postseason at that point -- but then three straight curveballs went wide of the plate. That brought up David Ross, who hooked a 1-2 curveball into the left-field corner for an RBI ground-rule double. If you had "David Ross hits two-strike curveball" in the go-ahead hit pool, congrats.
Wainwright became just the fourth pitcher to lose a World Series game despite recording 10-plus strikeouts and one walk or none, joining Jack Sanford (1942), Don Newcombe (1949) and Denny Galehouse (1944).
Where was the lefty? After the Ross double, Wainwright retired Lester on a comebacker for the second out. Jacoby Ellsbury hit .328 against right-handers, .246 against lefties. Wainwright was at 105 pitches and was facing Ellsbury for the fourth time. Not only that, but two batters away was Mr. Ortiz. I understand the desire to stick with your ace here, but bringing in Kevin Siegrist seemed like the necessary move. You have a batter with a notable platoon split, a starter deep into the game and Ortiz looming, even if it meant the next inning. Mike Matheny stuck with Wainwright, and Ellsbury lined a soft single into center to make it 3-1 (Shane Robinson threw out Ross at home plate).
Is it possible that Ortiz's home run off Siegrist in Game 1 has affected Matheny's usage of Siegrist? He seems reluctant to use him, despite his great numbers from the regular season.
Statheads get worked up! When Lester came up in the seventh with runners at second and third, there were calls to hit for him. For one thing, he's never had a major league hit (0-for-35 at that point) and you couldn't ask for a better high-leverage situation to use Mike Napoli. But Lester had thrown only 69 pitches and, as mentioned, it seemed like a pretty thin Boston bullpen on this night. Obviously, the chance to add two runs with a base hit there made it a sabermetrically attractive move. But this is where sabermetrics conflict with managing people and not just numbers. Did Farrell trust Breslow, even with a three-run lead? Do you pull a pitcher who is throwing well? Is Napoli versus Wainwright likely to result in a hit? Can you look Lester in the eyes and tell him he's coming out of the game?
Where have you gone, Shane Robinson? Allen Craig was back in the lineup for Matt Adams, but with his foot injury making him about as mobile as the fourth Molina brother, Matheny batted him sixth in the lineup. That led to some questionable lineup shuffling, with the light-hitting Robinson hitting second and Carlos Beltran moving down to fourth in the order. Matheny did say he was hoping to get some table-setters (i.e., speed) on base in front of the big guys, but it seemed strange not to keep Beltran hitting second and just moving Yadier Molina to the cleanup role.
The move didn't work as Robinson went 0-for-3 and Jon Jay, pinch hitting in the ninth, grounded out. Holliday, the No. 3 hitter, made the final out, which meant Beltran received one fewer plate appearance than the Robinson/Jay duo.
Big Papi: He went 3-for-4, the one out being a screaming liner to center field that ended a streak of nine straight times reaching base. He's hitting .733/.750/1.267 in this World Series.