ST. LOUIS — Back in spring training in 2006, a left-handed pitching prospect named Jon Lester took part in his first major league camp. He watched the veterans and learned.

“I want to get to that point where you’re like Curt Schilling or a (Josh) Beckett,” Lester said back then. “When they know every five days, whether they have their good stuff or not, they’re going to compete and try to win.”

Both Schilling and Beckett were known for their big-game prowess.

Now Lester is following in their footsteps, the Red Sox ace who is being heavily counted on. He gets the ball Monday in the pivotal Game 5.

“I like this stage,” Lester said, speaking before Sunday’s Game 4. “I like knowing that I’ve got to go out there and give everything I’ve got for my teammates, because (Monday) might be our last game.

“You don’t know. I guess that just gives you that little extra focus.”

Red Sox Manager John Farrell said that focus keeps Lester’s power channeled.

“I think the one thing that we all recognize is that the power stuff wins in the postseason,” Farrell said. “He’s got it. He maintains it.

“In addition to his physical strengths, there’s a level of concentration that he’s capable of maintaining that gives him the ability to execute consistently.”

In Game 1, Lester pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings, allowing five hits and one walk. He struck out eight.

A mini-controversy arose when a Cardinals minor-league pitcher accused Lester of using a foreign substance stashed in his glove. It was quickly squelched, but Lester knows the subject will resurface.

“I’m sure there’s going to be a focus on my glove and my hands and what I’m doing,” Lester said.

“But I’ve got to worry about the Cardinals. If I’m worried about what people are looking at, I’m worried about the wrong things.”

ADAM WAINWRIGHT is the Cardinals starter Monday night. He pitched Game 1 and was not at his best, giving up five runs through the first two innings. He did hang in there for five innings but took the loss.

“I honestly don’t know why my mechanics were as bad as they were,” said Wainwright, who won 19 games during the regular season. “My delivery was off. I threw maybe four or five quality pitches the whole time.

“It could have been 10 instead of five (runs).”

Wainwright said he’s made some adjustments and feels ready for Monday. Did he learn anything from Game 1?

“I learned that if I make mistakes in the middle of the plate, up in the zone, they’re going to hit them,” Wainwright said.

THE ONE REGRET that Farrell had from Game 3 Saturday night’s was not making a double-switch when he brought in reliever Brandon Workman. If he brought in catcher David Ross along with Workman, then the pitcher would not have batted in the ninth innings.

But Farrell downplayed it.

“If any position player is in that spot, is it a guarantee of a home run? People seem to think it’s a given,” Farrell said.

There would have been another result of such a move. Ross would have been the catcher in the ninth inning. Would he have tried to make that throw to third to get Allen Craig out?

THE POOR St. Louis Rams finally get to play a nationally televised Monday Night Football game at home for the first time since 2006, but the Rams-Seahawks game is up against the Cardinals being home for Game 5 of the World Series.

Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or [email protected]Twitter: ClearTheBases

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