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CRUZ GETS BIG HIT AGAIN, RANGERS BEAT CARDINALS

Sunday, 23 June 2013 09:51 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- After rookie Martin Perez silenced the St. Louis Cardinals, his manager was non-stop with praise.

"I've always seen the stuff, but tonight was the first time I think he showed he's a big-league pitcher," Ron Washington said after the Texas Rangers' 4-2 victory Saturday night. "It can be a huge step, he just beat a pretty good team.

"He should be proud. I know we are."

Nelson Cruz got the decisive hit for the second straight game with a two-run homer in the third inning for the Rangers, who have won four of five after losing six in a row.

Fellow rookie Shelby Miller (8-5) allowed two homers for the second time in three starts and didn't make it out of the sixth against the team the Cardinals beat in the 2011 World Series, Texas was making its first regular-season visit to Busch Stadium.

"I'm not saying that if I make a better pitch I get them out, but both pitches were right down the middle, perfect pitches to hit," Miller said. "The first one was supposed to be in and the other one was supposed to be away, and both kind of ended up right down the middle of the plate."

A.J. Pierzynski also hit a two-run homer for Texas, which goes for a three-game sweep on Sunday night with Nick Tepesch (3-6, 4.84) facing Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.37). The first two games have been sellouts and the finale was supposed to be a matchup of aces, but the Rangers are saving Yu Darvish for the Yankees Tuesday in New York.

They didn't want Perez to come up in New York, either.

Perez (1-1) was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock where he was 5-1 with a 1.75 ERA. The lefty allowed a run in each of the first two innings but gave up just two hits the next five innings and retired the last 10.

Though perhaps the Rangers' top prospect, Perez entered 1-5 with a 5.40 ERA with seven starts.

"I just had to do the same job I'm doing at Triple-A," Perez said. "The first two innings I missed a couple pitches but after that I just said `OK, this is my game.'"

Joe Nathan wrapped up a game that had all of the scoring in the first three innings with a perfect ninth for his 24th save in 25 chances. The start of the game was delayed by rain 66 minutes. It was the second such delay this week.

Earlier Saturday, Washington said he felt good about Cruz's tiebreaking two-run single in the ninth on Friday because the Rangers need wins, and not because Cruz needed redemption. The Rangers were an out away from taking the '11 Series when Cruz misplayed David Freese's game-tying triple in Game 6.

Cruz snapped a 2-2 third-inning tie with a two-run homer, his 19th of the season to the opposite field in right. He also singled and has four hits and five RBIs the first two games of the series.

Miller departed after bouncing a throw to first on a sacrifice bunt by Perez that loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth. Fellow rookie Seth Maness got Ian Kinsler on a groundout to end the sixth.

Miller is 3-2 this month, the other loss coming when he gave up two homers and four runs on the road against the Mets. Manager Mike Matheny couldn't find fault with pitches that the right-hander left up.

"He lives there, that's where his success is, so that's one of those two-edged swords," Matheny said. "Most of the guys in the league have a tough time catching up to him. You don't see many guys that see him the first time able to square balls up the first pitch they see on the top of the zone."

The Cardinals have opened the scoring both games and took the lead on Allen Craig's RBI single in the first with Carlos Beltran just beating the relay to the plate from center fielder Leonys Martin.

The Rangers answered when Adrian Beltre doubled to open the second and Pierzynski lined the next pitch into the right field seats for his seventh homer. The Cardinals tied it in the bottom half when Freese tripled off the top of the wall in right-center and scored on Shane Robinson's sacrifice fly.

NOTES: St. Louis Rams general manager Les Snead threw the ceremonial first pitch. ... Tepesch is 0-2 with a 9.77 ERA in his last three starts, and Washington said he needs to develop trust in all of his pitches. ... Wainwright has worked at least seven innings six straight starts, going 5-1. ... Cardinals RHP Michael Blazek made his major league debut and struck out two in a perfect ninth. ... Yadier Molina was 0 for 4 to end a seven-game hitting streak, dropping his league-leading average to .366. He batted .423 (11 for 26) during the streak. ... Craig has 21 RBIs this month, his best month ever. ... Cruz has 11 RBIs the last six games with a .400 average (10 for 25).

BLACKHAWKS 1 WIN AWAY FROM STANLEY CUP TITLE

Sunday, 23 June 2013 09:49 Published in Sports

CHICAGO (AP) -- Patrick Kane was right there again. Slicing through the middle of the ice, setting up his teammates for prime opportunities. Using his skills to beat another hot goaltender.

When it comes to the Stanley Cup finals, the talented forward just loves to put on a show.

Kane scored two goals, Corey Crawford made 24 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Boston Bruins 3-1 on Saturday night to move within one victory of their second championship in four years.

"This is what you work for all year, all summer, when you're training throughout the year, at training camp, whatever it may be," Kane said. "This is what you work for, this opportunity. We've got to seize the moment and take advantage of it."

Kane had a terrific postseason when Blackhawks won it all in 2010, including the winning score in a 4-3 overtime victory in Philadelphia that secured Chicago's first title in 49 years. Now he's picking up steam with the Blackhawks set to play for another Stanley Cup on Monday night in Boston, collecting seven goals in the last seven games.

Dave Bolland added an empty-net score, Toews had two assists and Bryan Bickell was credited with a team-high six hits and an assist. Toews also won nine of his 12 faceoffs before leaving with an upper-body injury.

"We're hopeful he'll be ready next game," said coach Joel Quenneville, providing the usual vague description of injuries that's so common in the NHL playoffs.

The Bruins also lost one of their key players when Patrice Bergeron was hurt in the second. It was unclear what happened to the star center, but the team said he was taken to a hospital for observation.

"As far as we're concerned, he's just getting evaluated right now," coach Claude Julien said. "Not much I can say on his situation."

Zdeno Chara scored in the third period for the Bruins, who lost consecutive games for the first time since the first round against Toronto. Tuukka Rask made 29 saves, keeping the Bruins close while they scrambled to generate quality chances.

"We just ran out of time," Rask said.

Chara got a nice pass from David Krejci from behind the net and beat Crawford on the glove side to make it 2-1 at 3:40 in the third period. The whistling slap shot by the big defenseman came after he was on the ice for five of Chicago's goals in the Blackhawks' 6-5 overtime victory Wednesday night.

The location of Chara's third postseason goal brought to mind the glove-side difficulties for Crawford in Game 4. But he held up just fine coming off the worst postseason game of his career.

"I think it was a big effort by everyone to come back, play defensively, block shots, sacrifice our bodies to block those pucks and quickly get on to offense," he said.

Crawford gloved Daniel Paille's slap shot early in the third, and the Blackhawks helped their embattled goaltender by turning up the pressure on Rask after the Bruins cut it to one. Kane forced Rask to make a couple of nice stops, and Michael Frolik also made a run to the net.

The Blackhawks survived one last push by the Bruins after they pulled Rask, and the crowd of 22,274 roared when the overhead videoboard showed the No. 1 and the Stanley Cup on the screen, signifying the team is one victory away from its fifth title.

"We understand the situation and what's at stake, but our mindset is going in there and trying to have the best game possible," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It's no different from tonight's game."

Not so for Boston.

"It's do or die," Julien said. "We've been there before, and we've done well in that situation."

Boston and Chicago returned to the ice three days after they played the highest-scoring game in this year's NHL playoffs.

It was a marked departure from the first three games of the finals, and raised questions about what the play would be like in the last part of the series. The answer, at least in Game 5, was a return to the strong team defense and disciplined play. It meant little room to maneuver in both offensive zones, especially for the series' biggest stars - except Kane.

"Guys that have that kind of innate skill of scoring and being a top player, they anticipate like the rest of us would like to," Quenneville said.

With 2 1/2 minutes left in the first, Johnny Oduya's long slap shot broke the stick of Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg and trickled to the left side of the net where Kane poked it in for eighth playoff goal.

The line of Kane, Toews and Bickell, which Quenneville put back together before Game 4, struck again in the second. Bickell was stopped by Rask on a rush along the left side, but skated behind the net and threw it back in front.

The puck went off the right side of the goal as Rask got his blocker to the post. Kane then deftly backhanded the bouncing puck into the top of the net to make it 2-0 at 5:13.

"You're not going to get those chances often, so it was good to bury them," he said.

That proved to be enough for Crawford, who has allowed one goal or less in nine games this postseason. But this one had to be particularly satisfying after facing a barrage of questions about his glove over the past two days.

"I have a job to do," said Crawford, who watched from the stands when the Blackhawks won it all in 2010. "Whatever is being said doesn't really affect what I'm going to do on the ice."

Since the NHL went to a best-of-seven format for the Stanley Cup in 1939, the winner of Game 5 in a deadlocked series has gone on to win the title 15 times in 22 occasions.

Those numbers likely don't scare Boston very much. The Bruins faced the same situation against Vancouver in 2011 and came back to win the championship.

"We're going to fight," center David Krejci said. "We're going to fight with everything we have and force Game 7."

NOTES: Bruins rookie Carl Soderberg made his first career playoff appearance when Julien decided to scratch Kaspars Daugavins. The 27-year-old Soderberg played a little more than 14 minutes in his first game since April 28. ... Former Blackhawks G Ed Belfour received a loud ovation and chants of "Ed-die! Ed-die!" when he was shown on the videoboard in the second period. ... Actress Michelle Pfeiffer and her husband David Kelley, a TV writer and producer, attended the game. ... The Bruins had no power plays.

CRUZ SNAPS TIE, RANGERS BEAT CARDINALS 6-4

Friday, 21 June 2013 23:10 Published in Sports

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Nelson Cruz snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single through a drawn-in infield and the Texas Rangers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 6-4 Friday night in the opener of a series between 2011 World Series opponents.

Derek Holland was strong at the end of a seven-inning stint after a shaky start, Neal Cotts (4-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the eighth when Jon Jay tapped out on a full-count pitch and Joe Nathan finished for his 23rd save in 24 chances. All of Cotts' decisions have come this month.

Left fielder David Murphy robbed Carlos Beltran of an extra-base hit and saved a run with a running catch at the wall in left-center to end it.

Allen Craig had two hits and two RBIs, plus he made a handful of outstanding plays at first base for the Cardinals. Joe Kelly worked five scoreless innings after Tyler Lyons was yanked in the second.

The opener of the three-game series drew a sellout of 45,228 to Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals closed out the '11 Series with wild wins in Games 6 and 7.

This game had some of the drama that made that series one of the best in recent memory.

Trevor Rosenthal (1-1) struck out two in a perfect eighth but gave up two hits, botched a sacrifice attempt for an error and threw a wild pitch to the backstop in the ninth.

Both managers insisted the matchup between 2011 World Series opponents was just another series, with the Cardinals' Mike Matheny noting both rosters have changed a lot and the Rangers' Ron Washington saying he's been over the gut-wrenching feeling left by those two final losses in St. Louis since the start of spring training in 2012.

Holland struck out the side in the seventh and retired the final 12 in order. Holland allowed three doubles and a walk to the first four hitters in the Cardinals' three-run first but gave up few hard-hit balls thereafter.

Andrus was in a 2-for-25 slump before his two-run single in the second chased Lyons, who lasted 1 2-3 innings. A.J. Pierzynski and Mitch Moreland opened the innings with doubles for a run and Nelson Cruz greeted Kelly with an RBI single to cap a four-run rally that put the Rangers up 4-3.

After winning his first two career starts for a rotation hit hard by injuries, Lyons is 0-3 with an 8.19 ERA in four outings. Kelly was 5-7 in 16 starts last year after replacing injured Jaime Garcia and could replace Lyons.

The Cardinals jumped on Holland in the first with three doubles and a walk the first four at-bats with Beltran driving in a run and Craig getting two RBIs. Pete Kozma doubled to open the second, advanced on the first of Kelly's two sacrifice bunts, and scored on a passed ball.

NOTES: The Rangers' top pitching prospect, lefty Martin Perez, will be recalled from Triple-A Round Rock to make his second career start Saturday. Perez is 5-1 with a 1.75 ERA in the minors. Washington said talk about an extended stay in the rotation was very premature. The Cardinals' Shelby Miller (8-4, 2.08) leads NL rookies in ERA. ... Moreland (hamstring) was activated from the 15-day DL earlier in the day and RHP Josh Lindblom was optioned to Triple-A Round Rock.

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