ST. LOUIS — The magic — and you’re damned right that is the proper word — of this worst-to-verge-of-the-duckboats Red Sox season hasn’t always been quantifiable with numbers.
Oh, sure, the Red Sox have their statistical marvels. You don’t get this far without them. A “30 for 30” film could be produced on what baseball-reference.com tells you about Koji Uehara‘s season alone. And did we mention David Ortiz is batting .733 in the World Series? To think we thought Ted Williams‘s wee .406 in ’41 was impressive.
(I kid. But still — .733? I’m not sure that is even legal in most states.)
From the moment Ben Cherington began implementing his masterful and unpopular offseason plan to reinforce this roster with an unheralded upper-middle-class of respected, winning, veteran players, this 107-win season has been a breathtaking exercise in proving that the whole can win a blowout over the sum of the parts if everyone is in it together.
And so there’s the catch: With that 108th victory and a third World Series title in a decade within reach as this World Series returns to Fenway Park Wednesday night, we’ve finally found the right number to explain this season:
One. Literally, figuratively, and any other way you choose to interpret it, that is the Red Sox’ magic number now.
One more victory, just one, and the 2013 Red Sox will be an object closer than they appear in the rear-view mirror of the ’67 Red Sox as the most improbable, if not impossible, feel-good story in modern franchise lore.
That 107th victory, a taut 3-1 victory in Game 5 here at Busch Stadium, was made reality largely by two of the Red Sox’ core holdovers from championships past and last year’s 69-win disaster.
Jon Lester, who won the World Series clincher as a pup in 2007, delivered his latest and perhaps greatest postseason gem Monday, delivering 7.2 innings of four-hit, one-run, seven-strikeout excellence before turning the ball over to closer Uehara for a four-out save.
He was backed by the redoubtable Ortiz, Big Papi to us and, as we’ve recently discovered, the way-cooler “Cooperstown” to his teammates, who punched three more hits, including a tone-setting RBI double in the first inning that scored Dustin Pedroia for the first run.
“Speaking of clutch hitting, what planet is that guy from?” said catcher David Ross with more than a hint of awe after the game.
Ortiz’s postseason feats have long been the stuff of legend and commemorative plaques. He’s now a .465 career hitter in the World Series (20 for 43), and in case you were wondering, it doesn’t surprise him any more than a take-your-base 3-2 curveball from a pitcher afraid of an challenge.
When Lester was asked if he’s ever seen a hitter as locked in over a five-game span as Ortiz is now, the subject of the question decided to answer it himself.
“I did it like 20 times this year,” Ortiz said with equal parts defiance and humor.
“That pretty much sums it up,” agreed Lester.
Ortiz added his own punctuation anyway.
“I was born for this.”
That’s when Lester, a man whose postgame word count usually comes in lower than his pitch count, chose to verbally tip his cap to his teammate of eight seasons.
“This guy right here is the epitome of a superstar and a good teammate,” said Lester.
“And I don’t think you could ever ask for more out of an individual than what he does on and off the field. The guy’s got a heart of gold. And he goes out there every single night and competes.”
“Thanks, brother,” said Ortiz.
On the surface, they may not seem to have much in common, Ortiz with the blinding bling and Lester with the adopted twang. But there’s a bond between them that was obvious on the podium Monday night even before Lester’s young son gave Ortiz a bear hug as if he were his favorite relative. It begins with a mutual and supreme confidence, something Ortiz saw in Lester six years ago.
“He told me straight up he was going to be the future of this organization, the ace,” Ortiz said. “And there is, doing what he does at his best.”
Lester has been at his best throughout this postseason. He’s now outpitched Adam Wainwright, a true ace himself, twice in the World Series. He’s allowed one run — Matt Holliday‘s solo homer in the fourth inning to tie the game at 1-1 — in 15.1 innings against the Cardinals. He’s 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts this postseason, his only loss a 1-0 defeat to Anibal Sanchez and the Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
In fact, while he’s done it with less fanfare than Ortiz, Lester has become one of those special players who rises to the occasion time and again in the postseason. He now has a 2.11 ERA in 13 postseason appearances, and his six victories are tied with Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling for the most in franchise history. In the World Series, he’s 3-0 in his career with a 0.43 ERA.
Related: I don’t think anyone will be clamoring to trade him for Wil Myers this offseason.
Ortiz and Lester were the marquee stars in a Game 5 victory that featured no weird final-out plot twist, no inexplicable base-running brain-lock to bring a rookie to tears, no umpires’ press conference to confuse a matter further by explaining the nuances of an obscure rule.
It was a typical, normal win for the Red Sox, just like so many of the previous 107.
The strangest development? That it took just 2 hours and 52 minutes to play a World Series game.
Maybe this also leans toward the odd: The Red Sox’ pitching has picked up the hitting in this World Series — through five games they have a 2.01 ERA and a .205 team batting average, .151 when Ortiz’s video-game numbers are removed. But the few hits have come at opportune times.
No knock on Farrell favorite Jonny Gomes, whose three-run homer was the deciding blow in Game 3. But he is not the Red Sox’ chief good-luck charm and purveyor of intangibles. That title belongs to catcher David Ross, who drove in man-child Xander Bogaerts (two hits) with the go-ahead run in the seventh.
The Red Sox are now 6-1 when Ross appears in a postseason game. He’s become the pitcher-whisperer to Lester, and with Jarrod Saltalamacchia struggling, he should be behind the plate when Beloved Fan-Favorite John Lackey takes the mound in Game 6 in a quest for his ultimate redemption.
“The signature moment, I think that’s what everyone lives for,” said the affable Ross, who admittedly savored his moment on the postgame podium, joking that he would make the team bus wait for him. “But I’m just — I’m just in awe of being in the World Series, really. That’s as signature as it gets. I’m on the podium, talking to you guys, with the whole World Series thing behind me, right? I’m stoked.”
Stoked. Hey, who isn’t? The World Series thing is coming back to Boston, where the Red Sox will try to wrap it up in six.
This team never lost more than three in a row all season. It’s hard to fathom that they could lose two in a row now. Not when the magic number in this magical season is all the way down to a tantalizing one.
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