ST. LOUIS -- Jon Lester was stumped.
"I don't know what it is," he said Sunday when asked to explain his success in the postseason. "I like this stage. I like knowing that I've got to go out there and give everything I've got for my teammates because tomorrow might be our last game."
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On Monday night, Lester made sure the Cardinals are down to what might be their last game.
Turning in a brilliant 72/3 innings for the second time in this World Series, Lester brought the Red Sox to the brink of their third title in 10 seasons with a 3-1 victory over the Cardinals in front of a frustrated crowd of 47,436 at Busch Stadium.
The Red Sox lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 scheduled for Wednesday night at Fenway Park, where they haven't clinched a championship since 1918. "It's a pretty special time," Lester said of possibly clinching at Fenway.
Said Boston manager John Farrell, "The fact is we're going home. Going back to a place that our guys love to play in, in front of our fans. We're excited about going home in the position we are."
In two World Series starts this year, Lester has allowed one run, nine hits and one walk in 151/3 innings, striking out 15. He allowed one run, four hits and no walks Monday night, striking out seven. Lester is 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts this postseason, including 72/3 shutout innings in Game 1.
Catcher David Ross, who snapped a 1-1 tie with a one-out RBI double off Adam Wainwright in the seventh inning, said he knew in the bullpen before the game that Lester "had a chance to do something special tonight,'' mentioning the pitcher's cutter in particular.
The other story for the Red Sox, of course, was the continued abuse of Cardinals pitching by David Ortiz. The 37-year-old slugger, starting a third straight game at first base with no designated hitter in the NL park, entered the game 8-for-11 in the World Series. He then improved upon that, going 3-for-4 to lift his average to .733 (11-for-15). He has a .750 on-base percentage.
"What planet is that guy from?'' Ross said admiringly, later adding: "That's why we call him Cooperstown."
Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, who allowed three runs and eight hits with 10 strikeouts in seven innings and dropped to 0-2 in the Series, couldn't do much to stop Ortiz, either.
Ortiz followed Dustin Pedroia's one-out double in the first with one of his own to make it 1-0. Ross' RBI double off Wainwright in the seventh snapped a 1-1 tie and Jacoby Ellsbury's single made it 3-1.
The only blemish for Lester, 5-4 with a 2.22 ERA in 12 postseason appearances (10 starts) entering the game, was Matt Holliday's homer in the fourth that tied the score at 1.
Now the Cardinals, who will throw rookie phenom Michael Wacha in Game 6 against Boston's John Lackey, will have to win two at Fenway.
"I think it starts with a mentality that it's a great challenge," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's a great opportunity for us to go in and prove the kind of team we are as far as how tough we are mentally, and I think that's where it begins. After that, it comes down to execution. We've got to have Michael come out and throw a big game."
Lester retired 12 straight after Holliday's homer before David Freese broke the streak with a one-out double in the eighth. After Pete Kozma flied out to left, Matheny sent up Matt Adams to pinch hit. Farrell countered by bringing on Koji Uehara for a four-out save.
Uehara, the MVP of the six-game ALCS victory over the Tigers after recording three saves, struck out Adams on three pitches, then pitched a perfect ninth for his second save in two nights.
In the first, Wainwright struck out Ellsbury looking. It was the 143rd strikeout of this postseason for the Red Sox, a record. Boston entered the game tied with the 2010 world champion Giants for the most in a single postseason.