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ST. LOUIS — Davis Ross, a gray-bearded baseball journeyman, has nearly completed his long-and-winding trek to a World Series title.
The very definition of a bench player — a backup catcher who has never gotten more than 311 at-bats in a season — Ross got the biggest hit of the year thus far for the Boston Red Sox.
Ross pulled a hanging curveball down the left-field line that landed just a few inches fair in the seventh inning, driving in the go-ahead run and boosting the Red Sox over the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 for a 3-2 World Series lead.
Now 36, Ross’s sandy-colored beard makes him look more aging rocker than dashing athlete. A veteran of six major league organizations, he signed last November for his second tour with the Red Sox, his team for part of 2008. And in a season interrupted by a concussion that sidelined him for more than two months, he emerged as Jon Lester’s catcher in October.
With Jarrod Saltalamacchia slumping at the plate, Ross got the opportunity of his 12-year major league career.
The bottom of Boston’s batting order had been a bust in the first four games: the Nos. 7-9 hitters were 2 for 43 (.047) with two walks and three RBIs.
With the back end of the Red Sox rotation in shaky condition, Boston didn’t want to have to return to Fenway Park needing to sweep two games.
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Ross was 1 for 9 in the Series before his fifth-inning single. He stepped to the plate in the seventh against Adam Wainwright following a single by rookie Xander Bogaerts and a walk by Stephen Drew, took a called strike, watched a ball and then fouled off a pitch. When Wainwright left a 79-mph hanger up, he pounced. If the ball hadn’t bounced into the stands, Drew would have scored, too, but he came around on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single as Ross was thrown out by Shane Robinson.
Ross isn’t out there for his speed. He’s usually not on the field for his bat.
In an October of unexpected surprises, Ross provided the biggest one for Boston.
Jon Lester pitched the Boston Red Sox within a whisker of yet another World Series championship.
Lester bested Adam Wainwright once again, journeyman David Ross hit a tiebreaking double in the seventh inning and the Red Sox downed the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Monday night to take a 3-2 Series edge.
David Ortiz delivered his latest big hit, too, sending this bearded band of Red Sox back to Fenway Park with a chance to clinch their third crown in a decade. Not since 1918 has Boston won the title at its own ballpark.
John Lackey gets the first chance Wednesday night against St. Louis rookie sensation Michael Wacha. A Cardinals win would set up a most spooky proposition for both teams — Game 7 on Halloween night.
Ortiz enjoyed even more success in Game 5 after moving from the cleanup spot to the third slot. He is 11 for 15 (.733) in this Series with two homers, six RBIs and four walks.
Lester enhanced his reputation as an October ace with every pitch. He allowed one run and four hits in 7 2-3 innings, striking out seven without a walk. Nearly the same line he had in beating Wainwright in the opener.
“I think the biggest thing is me and Rossy have had a good rhythm,” Lester said. “Early on, we just went back to our game plan from Game 1 and just fell back on that and really just tried to make them swing the bats early, and we were able to do that.”
The lefty who’s won all three of his career World Series starts had just one scary inning, when Matt Holliday homered in the fourth, Carlos Beltran flied out to the wall and Yadier Molina hit a liner. Other than that, Lester was sharp as a knife.
“He’s just a stud,” said Ross, the backup catcher who gets paired with Lester. “We rely on him. That’s why he’s the ace of our staff, because he goes out and pitches like that.”
Lester’s biggest brush with major trouble came well before his first pitch. He was getting loose near the warning track when a team of eight Clydesdales pulling a beer wagon came trotting by — it’s a Busch Stadium tradition and Lester stood aside to watch the horses.
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Koji Uehara closed for his second save. No crazy endings this time, either, following one night with an obstruction call and the next with Uehara’s game-finishing pickoff.
Ortiz put the Red Sox ahead with an RBI double in the first, hitting the first pitch after Dustin Pedroia doubled on an 0-2 curve.
Ross, a graybeard on a team led by scraggly veterans, broke a 1-all tie when he hooked a drive just inside the left-field line, and the ball bounced into the seats for a go-ahead double.
“How about that? It’s nice to drive in runs,” Ross said. “I’ve got to credit the guys in front of me.”
Jacoby Ellsbury later hit an RBI single, and Ross was thrown out at the plate trying to score on the play.
A day after Ortiz delivered a stirring, in-game pep talk to rev up the Red Sox, the Cardinals could’ve used some inspiration from Big Papi. That, or at least a visit from the good-luck Rally Squirrel from their 2011 title run.
The St. Louis hitters went quietly, a couple slinging their bats after routine popups and fly balls and others questioning the solid calls by plate umpire Bill Miller.
Holliday shook St. Louis’ slumber and broke Lester’s string with his second home run of the Series. Lester had pitched 16 1-3 scoreless innings in his first three World Series starts before Holliday tagged him.
That was all St. Louis got. Not even a revamped lineup that included the hobbled Allen Craig helped the Cards.
Ortiz hit an early double and single while swinging at first pitches, and tied the Series record by reaching base in nine straight plate appearances.
Wainwright changed things the next time Ortiz came up, varying his tempo and delivery. Ortiz still hit it hard while lining out to center.
Wainwright struck out 10 in seven innings, becoming the first Cardinals pitcher to reach double digits in the Series since Bob Gibson did it twice in 1968 against Detroit.
It was a big sports night in St. Louis, with an NFL game between the Rams and Seattle eight blocks away at the Edward Jones Dome. This is a baseball town, clearly: Football tickets sold for $10 on StubHub as kickoff approached, and fans inside the dome loudly booed when the World Series game was taken off the video board.
The baseball fans got to see Lester do more than pitch. He helped himself in the field, knocking down a hard comebacker and swiftly handling a bunt. He also made a dent with his bat, sort of.
Coming in with a career 0-for-31 mark at the plate, he nubbed a ball in front of the plate and was thrown out leading off the third. But at least he broke Wainwright’s string of five straight strikeouts, one shy of the postseason record tied by Detroit’s Justin Verlander against Boston in the AL championship series.
NOTES: A splinter from Daniel Nava’s broken bat stuck in his neck when he grounded into a double play to end the Boston fourth. He stayed in the game. ... The Red Sox struck out 14 times, raising their total to a postseason-record 156. Boston began the day with 142, tied with the 2010 champion Giants. ... RF Shane Victorino was again out of the Red Sox lineup because of lower back stiffness. ... The Cardinals beat Texas in Game 7 exactly two years earlier.