ST. LOUIS -- Inside, one of the most successful pitchers in World Series history was broiling.
"I'm sure he can attest to it," Jon Lester said late Monday night, nodding in teammate David Ortiz's direction. "It doesn't matter how many games at this stage you play, your nerves are going. Your heart rate is going."
Ortiz nodded, a rare testament to his own mortality. Yet had Lester left that snapshot of his emotions undeveloped, no one might have known.
From an outsider's perspective, Lester was simply unflappable throughout 7 2/3 innings of World Series Game 5, holding the Cardinals to one run in a 3-1 victory at Busch Stadium. Every bit as sharp as advertised, Lester bulled his way through one of the most fearsome lineups in baseball.
It's how he has always been in postseason play.
"I don't know what else to say about Jon Lester that I haven't already said," catcher David Ross said. "The guy is our backbone. He's our horse when he's out there. We expect a lot out of him. He's pitching like the ace he is."
Mostly, Lester is pitching like someone who is afraid of no one. After Allen Craig bounced into a double play on a 78-mph curveball to end the second inning, Lester took inventory of his arsenal and ditched the soft stuff entirely. He threw 41 consecutive fastballs from that point forward -- cutting many of them, sinking one every now and then, challenging the Cards at each edge of the strike zone.
Ross said he never spoke much with Lester about pitch selection, focusing more on the vertical planes of his offerings. Pitching coach Juan Nieves talked of the Cardinals' aggressive reputation, lauding Lester's ability "to manipulate the baseball" against them. The results were apparent: Lester allowed just two hits during his four-inning fastball spree, one of them a solo homer to Matt Holliday in the fourth.
"He was unbelievable attacking the zone," second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "That's why he's our ace, man. Big-game pitcher. Getting us back home."
|Curt Schilling||Ari.||2001||4||0||48 1/3||25||6||56||1.12|
|Randy Johnson||Ari.||2001||5||1||41 1/3||25||8||47||1.52|
|Orel Hershiser||Cle.||1995||4||1||35 1/3||20||9||35||1.53|
|Jon Lester||Bos.||2013||4||1||34 2/3||25||8||29||1.56|
|Cliff Lee||Phi.||2009||4||0||40 1/3||27||6||33||1.56|
Though Lester hit as high as 95 mph with his four-seam fastball, he is not a prototypical power pitcher, typically sitting in the 89-93-mph range. He excelled Monday by spotting his heaters on either edge of the strike zone, locating them up and down with uncommon precision. When he cut his fastball, Lester vexed the Cards even more.
"The cutter is a tough pitch," Cards second baseman Matt Carpenter said. "When he has that thing working, it's a tough at-bat. It's as tough of an at-bat as you'll take, and he had it working tonight."
Baseball players like to call such shows of pitching dominance "shoving," a phrase uttered more than once in the visitors' clubhouse late Monday night. The Red Sox's words included allusions to 2007, when Lester fired 5 2/3 shutout innings in Boston's clinching Game 4 win over the Rockies.
What's clear, the Red Sox stressed, was that Game 5 was no isolated incident. With another strong night on his ledger, Lester lowered his career postseason ERA to 2.11 in 76 2/3 innings. That's fifth-lowest among pitchers with at least 70 playoff innings, higher than only Mariano Rivera (0.70), Christy Mathewson (1.06), Waite Hoyt (1.83) and Bob Gibson (1.89).
Lester is one of nine pitchers with at least four wins and an ERA of 1.60 of lower in a single postseason, one of 10 with at least 75 postseason innings and an opponents' batting average of .210 or less. He is also a two-game World Series winner this year, and 3-0 all-time in Fall Classic play.
"I just really try not to screw it up," Lester said in delivering yet another superlative -- the understatement of the night. "I just try to keep my team in the ballgame. We know who we are going up against. They're going to pitch us tough and their bullpen is tough, as well. I just really try to keep them in the ballgame as best I can."
When it became apparent that Lester had already done so for six solid innings, the thought of pinch-hitting for him in the seventh seemed reasonable. But with the Red Sox taking a one-run lead and Lester having thrown just 69 pitches, manager John Farrell decided his ace was not going anywhere -- not even after he appeared to injure himself slightly on a swing. Lester simply continued grinding St. Louis' lineup into powder, leaving only after allowing consecutive hard-hit balls with two outs in the eighth.
If it was Lester's final World Series act, it came with a flourish.
"He impresses me a lot," Ross said. "His attitude and his passion and the fire he brings on a daily basis when he's out there are second to none. He's locked in. Yeah, I knew he had a good chance of doing something special today."