ST. LOUIS – Cue Dirty Water and trim those beards. Fenway Park, that lyric little bandbox, is primed to party like it's 1918.
With Monday night's businesslike 3-1 dispatching of the Cardinals on a day Jon Lester solidified his status as ace with an impressive takedown of Adam Wainwright, the Red Sox seized a 3-2 World Series lead and set up a Game 6 on Wednesday unlike any other in our lifetime.
With one more victory, the Red Sox will win their first World Series title in Fenway Park since Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States, Ed Barrow was in the office John Farrell now occupies and Carl Mays was hurling the Sox to a 2-1 Game 6 win over the Chicago Cubs to wrap up the 1918 title.
Seasons have come and seasons have gone since then, none of them with the Red Sox ever winning the summer's final game in Fenway Park with a World Series title on the line.
"I said to someone earlier today, we don't have many people who are alive now to guide us through the precedent set in 1918," club president Larry Lucchino said as the Red Sox dressed for their late-night charter home. "We may have to do some research.
"But we'll decline to address that until we deserve to get there. No celebration before it's time. This team has taught us that. Their mature perspective is really admirable."
Zeroed in for the long haul in Game 5 with both the focus and determination of a jewel thief, Lester began addressing the prospect of linking to 1918 with an assortment of well-placed fastballs and snappy curves.
Now 29, the big (6-4, 240 pounds) lefty has grown up before this organization's watchful eyes, from his status as a second-round pick in 2002 to his major-league debut in 2006 through his battle with cancer when he was diagnosed with lymphoma in '06 to his Game 4 start in the 2007 World Series against the Rockies, and beyond.
Teammates rave about his doggedness, and the Red Sox are still talking about his five no-hit innings in his very first Grapefruit League start this spring.
Storylines this postseason have favored the Rays' David Price, the Tigers' Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and the Cardinals' Wainwright over Lester when playoff rotations have been compared, usually pushing him somewhere into the background.
But when he made his one mistake on Monday night, leaving a pitch where Matt Holliday could deposit it over the center-field fence, it snapped a career streak of 17 1/3 scoreless World Series innings.
"Lester has been a bona fide ace in the postseason," Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow said. "Much has been made of the starters we've faced. Lester deserves to be mentioned ahead of any of them."
Watching him clip Wainwright in two of these five World Series games, it is impossible to disagree. Lester's two outings, David Ortiz's continued mastery of October and, Monday, catcher David Ross' ambush of Wainwright with an RBI double in the seventh have the organization that once played under the Curse of Babe Ruth now poised for its third World Series title in 10 years.
"There's a reason I hit in the eight hole and the nine hole in the American League," Ross said to a roomful of laughter. "I'm not very good at hitting."
But these Red Sox are a very good collection of pieces that fit together like the trees, softball fields and Freedom Trail in Boston Common.
Now, all they need is one win, and they have two opportunities to get it.
As things stand now, John Lackey gets Game 6 and the the first chance to become the direct descendent of Mays, who mowed down a Cubs' lineup that included the immortal Fred "Bonehead" Merkle and a couple of aptly named infielders, Charlie Pick (second base) and Charlie Deal (third base). Jake Peavy is scheduled to start Game 7 (Farrell, speaking before Game 5, qualified the Lackey-Peavy plans by saying, "As of now, yes, that's the way we're lined up").
To the Cardinals, a Game 5 win was so important that when Allen Craig started working to convince manager Mike Matheny to put him in the lineup at first base Monday afternoon, he encountered little resistence. Looking for any offense they could get, the Cardinals sent Craig out to play first base for the first time since he injured the ligaments in his left foot on Sept. 4.
The combination platter of Craig and Wainwright was St. Louis' best hope in what essentially was the closest thing to a must-win situation. Sure, the Cardinals could shock us all and go 2 for 2 in Fenway Park to win it all -- and in this World Series of the Weird, would that even really count as a surprise? -- but even the Cards know now that they are taking the road least traveled to a Series championship.
"The guys know what we have to do: We have to play the game," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "They have to lock arms, trust each other and play the game the right way.
"Most of it is going to be the mentality of not buying into any kind of stats, any kind of predictions, any kind of odds."
As in, ignoring the fact that of the previous 62 times a World Series has rested at 3-2, the team with the lead has won 66.1 percent of the time (41 times).
Given that Lester's dominance extended all the way to the bullpen gate, Boston will take a very rested staff into this final game or two. As good as Lester was on the mound, it is important to appreciate the position he put Farrell into: By working so deeply into this game, he allowed his manager to use only ace closer Koji Uehara out of the pen for the final four outs.
With Breslow on 'E', the Sox bullpen has become such a source of distrust that Farrell employed two starters out of the pen in Game 4, Lackey and Felix Doubront. Lackey hadn't relieved since 2004, and he threw the eighth inning.
Lester's brilliance lasted through the first two outs of the eighth, and then Uehara got the inning's final out and breezed through the ninth.
One way around weak bullpens that are losing trust is to change landes and bypass them altogether.
And one way to save the bullpen after consecutive outings in which your starter lasted only four innings -- Peavy in Game 3, Clay Buchholz in Game 4 -- is to produce a starter who pulls more weight than an entire team of Clydesdales.
"Jon is the epitome of an ace of a staff," said Ryan Dempster, who is on the Sox World Series roster but has been in man-without-a-country land, watching from the bench. "All year, he's stopped [losing] streaks, won big games. ... In the second half, he's been throwing the ball as well as anybody."
And, added Dempster, "There's never been a day when Jon Lester didn't go out after an outing, look in the mirror and say he didn't do everything he could do to put himself in position to succeed."
Lester needed only 69 pitches through the first six innings against St. Louis' silent bats, made it through the seventh on just 81 and finished with 91.
Then there was Ortiz, who singled home Dustin Pedroia three batters into the game to give the Sox an early 1-0 lead and the 47,436 packing Busch Stadium more to worry about.
When Ortiz singled the next time up, he tied a World Series record by reaching base for a ninth consecutive time. He now is batting .733 (11 for 15) in this series and has compiled a .750 on-base percentage.
There is Locked In, and then there is Locked In And On A Mission.
Someone asked Ortiz if he's ever been on a streak like this.
"I did it, like, 20 times this year," the inimitable Ortiz quipped.
"That pretty much sums it up," Lester said.
"I was born for this," Ortiz replied.
Is there any doubt left? Anywhere? He is the one Papi who links the 2004 champion Red Sox ... with the 2007 champion Red Sox ... with the Sox who now are pounding on the door of the throne room.
All that and, now ... to win a World Series on the Fenway Park lawn?
"I think it would be unbelieveable," Breslow said. "Priority No. 1 is to win the World Series. Priority No. 600 or so would be to win at home. We know there will be a buzz through this city."
And an airport-runway roar through Fenway Park. Already, you can imagine what Wednesday night will be like. You will be able to feel the noise.
"I'm telling you, it's going to get loud out there," Ortiz said. "Our fans are baseball fans. They love the game and they love how we've been going at it every day.
"And I'm pretty sure it's going to be very loud out there."