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).
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.
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.
MIAMI (AP) -- LeBron James and the Miami Heat remain atop the NBA, and not even a proud push from the San Antonio Spurs could knock them down.
James led the Heat to their second straight NBA title, scoring 37 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in a 95-88 victory Thursday night in a tense Game 7 of the NBA Finals that lived up to its billing.
Winning the title they needed to validate the best season in franchise history - and perhaps the three-superstar system they used to build it - the Heat won the second straight thriller in the NBA's first championship series to go the distance since 2010.
Two nights after his Game 6 save when the Heat were almost eliminated, James continued his unparalleled run through the basketball world, with two titles and an Olympic gold medal in the last 12 months.
He made five 3-pointers, defended Tony Parker when he had to, and did everything else that could ever be expected from the best player in the game.
The Heat became the NBA's first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2009-10, and the first team to beat the Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Players and coaches hugged each other after the game, the respect between the franchises that was obvious when the series started becoming even more apparent after two straight classics.
Fans stood, clapped and danced across the final minutes, when every score was answered by another score, each stop followed by a better stop. The Heat pushed their lead to six points a few times midway through the fourth but the Spurs would never be deterred.
The Spurs, so close to a fifth title just two nights earlier, couldn't find a way to grab it in this one, perhaps the last shot Tim Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili will ever get together.
They were trying to become the first road team to win a Game 7 on the road since Washington beat Seattle in 1978, but those old guys ran out of gas just before the finish.
Duncan had 24 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs, but missed a shot and follow attempt right under the basket with about 50 seconds left and the Spurs trailing by two.
James followed with a jumper - the shot the Spurs were daring him to take earlier in the series - to make it 92-88, sending San Antonio to a team a timeout as Glenn Frey's "The Heat is on" blared over the arena's sound system.
He then came up with a steal and made two free throws for a six-point lead, and after Ginobili missed, James stalked toward the sideline, knowing it was over and he was the last one standing again.
Dwyane Wade had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Heat, who overcame a scoreless Chris Bosh by getting six 3-pointers and 18 points from Shane Battier.
Streamers fell from the arena ceiling onto the white-clad fans for the second year in a row, but this one meant so much more after how close the Heat were to losing it.
They were down 10 in the fourth quarter of Game 6 before James led the charge back, finishing with a triple-double in Miami's 103-100 overtime victory. This one was nearly as tight, neither team leading by more than seven and the game tied 11 times.
Kawhi Leonard had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Spurs, who had been 4 for 4 in the championship round. Ginobili had 18 points but Parker managed just 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
The Heat collected the Larry O'Brien again from Commissioner David Stern, presiding over his final NBA Finals before retiring next February.
He couldn't have asked for a better way to go out.
James avenged his first finals loss, when his Cleveland Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs on 2007. That helped send James on his way to South Florida, realizing it would take more help to win titles that could never come alone.
He said he would appreciate this one more because of how tough it was. The Heat overpowered Oklahoma City in five games last year, a team of 20-something kids who weren't ready to be champions yet.
This came against a respected group of Spurs whose trio has combined for more than 100 playoff victories together.
Duncan is 37 and Ginobili will be a 36-year-old free agent next month, the core of a franchise whose best days may be behind them.
Meanwhile, it's a potential dynasty along Biscayne Bay, but also one with a potentially small window. Wade's latest knee problems are a reminder that though he came into the NBA at the same time as James and Bosh, he's a couple of years older at 31 with wheels that sometimes seem older.
James can become a free agent again next summer with another decision - though hopefully not another Decision - to make. He's comfortable in Miami and close with Wade, and the Heat have the leadership and commitment from owner Micky Arison and president Pat Riley to continue constructing a championship core around him.
Why would he want to leave here?
San Antonio's most recent title came at James' expense, a sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007. The Spurs' exploited the weaknesses in James' game though knew someday they would be gone, Duncan telling him afterward that the league would someday belong to James.
And James simply isn't giving it back.
He came in averaging 33.8 points in Game 7s, already the best in NBA history, and was even better in this one.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Lance Lynn earned his 10th victory to tie for the NL lead, Matt Holliday homered and drove in two runs, and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Thursday night.
Yadier Molina batted cleanup for the first time this season and walked twice with a double, raising his NL-leading average to .366. Allen Craig, the regular cleanup man, made his first pinch-hit appearance of the season and had a two-run double off Hector Rondon during a four-run sixth.
The Cardinals took three of four from the Cubs and lead the majors with a 47-26 record heading into a weekend interleague series against the Texas Rangers, the team they beat in the 2011 World Series.
Welington Castillo homered leading off the third for the Cubs, who left the bases loaded in the fifth when slumping Starlin Castro fouled out. They're 20-18 against NL teams outside their division, but just 9-24 against the Central.
Lynn (10-1) allowed a run on three hits in six innings with six strikeouts and has reached double digits in wins before the All-Star break both of his years in the rotation, going 11-4 last year and making the All-Star team. He joined teammate Adam Wainwright and Washington's Jordan Zimmermann for the league lead.
Lynn retired the side in order four times and is 5-1 against the Cubs, the lone loss coming last month at Wrigley Field. He's won nine in a row at Busch Stadium.
Molina was 8 for 13 in the series with a homer and is 11 for 21 overall this season against Chicago with a homer and five RBIs.
Castro was 0 for 4 with two strikeouts and is in an 11-for-85 slump that has dropped his average to .232.
Castillo's second homer of the season and first since April 8 briefly tied it at 1 after David Freese's run-scoring groundout off Scott Feldman (6-6) had given the Cardinals the lead. Matt Carpenter scored from second on Holliday's infield hit, a bouncer between third and short that Castro got his glove on but could not contain.
Feldman retired one of the four hitters he faced in the sixth, the lone out coming on center fielder Ryan Sweeney's leaping catch at the wall to rob Matt Adams of a homer two at-bats after Holliday hit his 11th also to straightaway center.
The Cardinals won consecutive games for the first time since June 6-7 after alternating wins and losses for nine games.
Notes: Rookie Tyler Lyons (2-3, 4.65) opposes the Rangers' Derek Holland (5-4, 3.30) Friday night. ... The Cubs' three-game series against the Astros is their lone home action in a stretch of 19 games with Matt Garza (1-1, 4.98) opposing Dallas Keuchel (4-3, 4.23). ... Cardinals starters lead the majors with 41 victories.
MIAMI (AP) -- Game 7s do more than settle championships. They define legacies.
No matter what happens Thursday night, LeBron James and the Miami Heat, and Tim Duncan's San Antonio Spurs have already won NBA titles and secured a place in history.
Now is their opportunity to elevate it.
The truly memorable teams won the hard way, and that will be the case for the one celebrating at center court this time. It's either a Heat repeat, possible only after James led them back from what seemed certain elimination in the closing seconds of Game 6, or the Spurs shaking off as gut-wrenching a loss as a team can have to become just the fourth club to win a Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the road.
"As a competitor you love it, because you know you have an opportunity and it's up to you," Heat guard Ray Allen said. "We have a chance in our building to make something great. All of our legacies are tied to this moment, this game. It's something our kids will be able to talk about that they were a part of. Forever will remember these moments, so we want to not live and have any regrets."
Allen played in the game the last time the NBA's season went down to the very last day, the Boston Celtics fading at the finish and falling 83-79 to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2010. That made home teams 14-3 in finals Game 7s, with no road team winning since Washington beat Seattle in 1978.
Overcoming those odds, not to mention the NBA's winningest team, would make this more memorable than the Spurs' previous four titles, though this is a franchise that never dwells too much on the past or looks too far into the future.
All that matters is now.
"You know what, it's all about just winning the title. It's not about situation or what has led up to it," Duncan said. "It's a great story for everybody else, but we're here for one reason, one reason only: It's to try to win this game (Thursday). We have had a very good season thus far, and I think we just want to get to the game more than anything. We just want to see what happens and be able to leave everything out there."
The teams trudged back to the arena Wednesday, some 12 hours after the Heat pulled out a 103-100 overtime victory in Game 6 to even the series. The Spurs, five points ahead with 28 seconds left in regulation, had to fight off fatigue and heartbreak, insisting neither would linger into Thursday.
By far the best game of this series, Game 6 immediately took its place among the best finishes in finals history, with everything from James' triple-double to Allen's tying 3-pointer with 5.2 seconds left in regulation.
It had close calls, debatable decisions, and the NBA's best player at his very best when his team needed him most.
Games 2-5 in the series had been ugly, but that one was a beauty.
"I think - I know - that game will go down as one of the best finals games that's been seen," Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. "But I think this series will go down as being one of the most competitive, bizarre series that's been seen. So this is what you pay for to watch. You pay to watch two great teams battle to the very, very end, and that's what we'll do (Thursday). It will be to the very last second."
The Heat could become the NBA's first repeat champions since the Lakers in 2010. James and Chris Bosh moved to Miami to join Wade a few weeks later and they are in the finals for the third time in three chances.
But playing for titles is more expected than celebrated now in Miami, and a 66-win season that included a 27-game winning streak - and perhaps the whole Big Three era - goes down as a failure if the Heat fall Thursday. Yet James said he doesn't need the victory to validate his decision to take his talents to South Beach.
"I mean, I need it because I want it and I only came here - my only goal is to win championships," he said. "I said it, this is what I came here for. This is what I wanted to be a part of this team for."
He, Wade and Bosh are going for No. 2, while San Antonio is getting a second shot at what would be a fourth together for Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. All their years together have given the Spurs' trio the belief they can bounce back from Tuesday's collapse.
The team went to dinner after the game, Duncan figuring that was better than guys sitting alone with their thoughts in their rooms. Parker and Boris Diaw discussed a similar situation with the French national team in the 2005 European championships, when they blew a late lead against Greece in the semifinals but then came back to beat Spain for the bronze medal.
"We just have to be positive and forget Game 6," Parker said. "It was a great opportunity, but that's life. It's basketball and everybody will be ready."
So will James, who was planning a relaxing night with family and friends Wednesday. He has the most at stake in the game, and when it's over he'll be either a two-time NBA Finals MVP or a two-time loser in a Heat uniform.
"I want to go down as one of the greatest. I want our team to go down as one of the greatest teams. And we have an opportunity to do that," James said. "Hasn't been many teams to win back-to-back championships. It's so hard. It's the hardest thing. I said last year it was the hardest thing I've ever done, winning my first. Last year don't even come close to what we've gone through in this postseason and in these finals.
"So I'll be there (Thursday) night. I'm going to give it my all."
The Spurs have never lost in the finals, but they've never faced a situation quite like this. They won a Game 7 for the 2005 championship, but that victory over Detroit was at home. The last five finals that went the distance all went to the home team.
"I don't really care what it's been like for anybody else at any time," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "All I know is we have had a hell of a year and we have an opportunity to win a championship. That's all that matters."
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Edwin Jackson believes he knows what ailed him at the start of his tenure with the Chicago Cubs.
"Earlier, I felt like I was kind of mechanical, kind of too much in a bubble," he said. "You have to go back to having fun."
The Cardinals kept Jackson from having much fun in his bid for a third straight victory. Yadier Molina hit his fifth home run and Jake Westbrook (2-3) pitched seven innings of two-hit ball in the St. Louis Cardinals' 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night.
Jackson signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs in the offseason and promptly dropped his first five decisions and started 1-8 overall as his ERA ballooned to 6.29. In his past three starts, however, both he and manager Dale Sveum have seen a major difference in his approach.
"He's pitching with more conviction," Sveum said. "(Wednesday's) velocity wasn't like it was, but everything is going a heck of a lot better than the first half of his starts."
Jackson (3-9) was pulled after he hit Jon Jay following Molina's blast to left field. He pitched 5 1-3 innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits. He struck out one and walked two. His ERA is down to 5.49
He was pleased with his performance and wasn't even unhappy with the ball that Molina homered on.
"I thought it was a pretty good pitch, but either he was looking for it or he guessed right or it was right in his zone," Jackson said. "Either way, he hit it for a home run. But I threw my pitch with conviction and it was the pitch I wanted to throw. Sometimes it happens in a game."
Molina admitted to being surprised by his blast.
"Sometimes you get lucky," he said. "That was lucky."
Westbrook worked around trouble almost the entire night in his second start since coming off the disabled list with a sore elbow. He gave up no earned runs, striking out two and walking three.
Edward Mujica pitched a perfect ninth inning for his 21st save in 21 attempts.
Westbrook said if he voted for MVP, his battery mate would certainly get the nod.
"With the way he's been hitting, but more importantly the way he's handled us as a staff and the way we've been pitching," Westbrook said. "He, in my mind, is the reason for that."
Molina is hitting .365 and is pulling away from the field. Colorado's Troy Tulowitzki, who is on the disabled list, is second at .347. Molina is just outside of the top 10 in RBIs (41). He's also helped the Cardinals pitching staff post the major league's second-best ERA (3.28).
Allen Craig reached in the fifth after second baseman's Darwin Barney's throw on the back end of a double-play attempt went to the Cardinals dugout. Molina drove a 1-2 pitch just over the outfield wall to improve to 9 of 15 with three homers against Jackson.
Jay went to third on a hit-and-run with Daniel Descalso singling to right and scored on a hit from Pete Kozma to give St. Louis a 4-1 lead.
Westbrook retired the Cubs in order in the first and seventh innings, allowing at least one runner to reach in the five innings between. He faced the minimum in three of those five innings. Two runners were erased on inning-ending double plays and Luis Valbuena was caught stealing on a pitchout for the first out of the third.
"He was good," Molina said of Westbrook. "That sinker was moving a lot."
The pitcher lasted just five innings in his return Friday at Miami, giving up five runs (three earned) on eight hits in a loss.
"I felt good," Westbrook said. "I was throwing a really good sinker, tonight. I was locating it a lot better than the last start."
Anthony Rizzo opened the second with a single and went to third when second baseman Matt Carpenter's throw to start a potential double play sailed over the Kozma's head and into leftfield. Rizzo tagged up on a sacrifice fly from Barney and scored after knocking the ball out of Molina's glove.
Carpenter singled to start the first and scored on Craig's hit to center.
NOTES: The Cardinals earned at least a split of the four-game series. ... Jackson's exit with one out in the fifth snapped a five-game streak in which the Cubs' rotation recorded a quality start and a seven-game stretch in which it went at least six innings. ... Craig is hitting .431 with runners in scoring position. ... Rizzo's single in the second ended a 0-10 streak. ... Molina was assessed with his third error of the year for dropping the ball in the second and allowing Ryan Sweeney and Welington Castillo to advance. He had three all of last season. ... Major League Baseball made two scoring changes from the Cardinals' game June 11 at the New York Mets. It rewarded Molina a double rather than an error as originally scored and changed an error assessed to 3B David Freese to a hit for David Wright.
BOSTON (AP) -- After struggling for more than 120 minutes to score even once, the Blackhawks beat Boston goalie Tuukka Rask a half-dozen times in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals to send the series back to Chicago tied two games apiece.
Now that's an Original Six.
Brent Seabrook's slap shot 9:51 into overtime gave the Blackhawks a 6-5 victory on Wednesday night, restoring the home-ice advantage to the Western Conference champions. Game 5 is Saturday night in Chicago, with Game 6 back in Boston on Monday.
"I guess it was just our turn to score again," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, who had a goal and an assist in the back-and-forth game in which Boston come back to tie the score three times. "It was a fun game to play. ... I'm sure the fans enjoyed that, for sure."
It was the third overtime game in the matchup of Original Six franchises, but it bore little resemblance to the three tightly contested games that opened the series. The teams combined for five goals in the second period - as many as in Games 2 and 3 combined - as Chicago bounced back from its first shutout of the season with its most prolific output of the playoffs.
Bryan Bickell and Michal Rozsival had two assists apiece for Chicago, which had scored only five goals total in the first three games of the series and hadn't gotten the puck past Rask in more than 129 minutes coming into Game 4. Corey Crawford made 28 saves, coughing up the lead three times.
"They keep coming," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "One of those nights."
Patrice Bergeron scored twice and Zdeno Chara and Jaromir Jagr each had two assists for Boston, which has won 11 of 14 playoff games; the three losses have all been in overtime.
Rask made 41 saves but he was screened by Jonathan Toews on the game-winner, which quickly quieted the building where Boston had earned a dominating, 2-0 victory two nights earlier - the only Blackhawks' shutout of the season.
"One of the things we have talked about, get pucks to the net," said Seabrook, a defenseman who also had the overtime goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. "I just tried getting it on net, we had a great screen in front. ... It just found a way."
The Blackhawks led 1-0, 4-2 and 5-4, but each time the Bruins evened it up. The last, just 55 seconds after Chicago took the lead, came when Johnny Boychuk slapped it over a sliding Johnny Oduya with 7:46 left in regulation.
Boychuk, who had never scored more than five goals in a season, has six in the postseason.
"It wasn't a Bruins' type of game, but at the same time you have to get yourself back into it," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Our guys worked hard to score goals. Probably got ourselves out of what our normal game plan is. So we opened up and we scored goals, but we also gave them some goals, like the game-winning goal."
The overtime was even until the Bruins failed to clear the zone, and the Blackhawks got the puck to Seabrook at the right point. What seemed like a harmless shot eluded Rask, and the Blackhawks followed with a subdued celebration at the end of another long night.
"If he sees the puck, he's going to be almost impossible to beat," Quenneville said. "We want to make sure we get there and make it hard on him to find it, try to go on the second and third opportunity. Nice ending with traffic in the net, Seabs having a shot that tied us up."
The Bruins had trailed for under 60 minutes total of the almost 900 minutes they had played in the postseason. But the Blackhawks came out strong early in this one, recording the first seven shots and taking a 1-0 lead on a short-handed goal when Oduya was off for interference early in the first period.
Brandon Saad picked Tyler Seguin clean in the defensive zone and brought the puck down the ice before flipping it across to Michal Handzus, who rattled it in off the post to make it 1-0. That snapped Rask's shutout streak that dated to the first period of Game 2, but the lead didn't last for long.
None of them did.
The Bruins tied it on the power play when Andrew Ference kept the puck in at the blue line, and Rich Peverley finished it off with a wrist shot.
But it was in the second period that the teams really opened things up.
Toews tipped in Rozsival's shot to put the Blackhawks back in the lead with 6 1/2 minutes gone. Just over two minutes later, Chicago took its first two-goal lead of the series when Kane converted a rebound to make it 3-1.
It stayed that way for six minutes before Milan Lucic deflected Chara's shot into Crawford and then put back his own rebound to make it a one-goal game. Forty-nine seconds later, Kruger stuck with the puck until he had poked it past Rask and into the net to make it 4-2.
That's when Boston got some luck.
Chara's shot from the center of the blue line deflected off Crawford's left shoulder and over the net, where it hit the back wall, bounced back onto the top of the net and landed in the slot, right in front of Bergeron. He chipped it in to make it 4-3, then tied it two minutes into the third.
"You think you have a good lead at 3-1 and they made it 3-2. Then we had 4-2 and they scored on the power play," Kane said. "It was back and forth the whole game but a fun game to play."
Patrick Sharp gave Chicago a 5-4 lead with 8:41 left in regulation - on an assist from Marian Hossa, who missed Game 3 with an undisclosed injury - but it lasted only 55 seconds before Boychuk tied it.
Notes: Bruins Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, who also played briefly for Chicago, was in the crowd, waving a yellow towel in support of the Bruins. ... Boston killed 29 consecutive penalties dating to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, including the first 13 Chicago opportunities of the finals. ... The Blackhawks had the first seven shots of the game despite a penalty that left them short-handed. ... Jagr assisted on both goals by Bergeron, giving the 1999 NHL MVP 199 career postseason points. He is fifth all-time. ... Midway through the first, Boston's Shawn Thornton hit the scoreboard when he lofted the puck out of the zone.
MIAMI (AP) -- LeBron James led a title-saving charge, and now his crown will be on the line one more time in Game 7.
James powered Miami to a frantic fourth-quarter rally and overtime escape as the Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs 103-100 on Tuesday night to extend the NBA Finals as far as they can go and keep their repeat chances alive.
Losing his headband but keeping his cool while playing the entire second half and overtime, James finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, making the go-ahead basket with 1:43 remaining in the extra period.
Tim Duncan scored 30 points for the Spurs, his most in an NBA Finals game since Game 1 in 2003, but was shut out after the third quarter. He added 17 rebounds.
Game 7 will be here Thursday, the NBA's first do-or-die game to determine its champion since the Lakers beat the Celtics in 2010.
The Spurs looked headed to a fifth title in five chances when they built a 13-point lead with under 4 minutes left in the third quarter, then grabbed a five-point edge late in regulation after blowing the lead.
But James hit a 3-pointer before Ray Allen tied it with another with 5.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
James was just 3 of 12 after three quarters, the Heat trailing by 10 and frustration apparent among the players and panic setting in among the fans.
Nothing to worry. Not with James playing like this.
He finished 11 of 26, even making a steal after his basket had given Miami a 101-100 edge in the OT.
Before that, he was 12 minutes from hearing the familiar criticisms about not being able to get it done, from having to watch a team celebrate on his home floor again.
Then he changed the game and erased that story.
The Heat, who haven't lost consecutive games since Jan. 8 and 10, had too much defense and way too much James for the Spurs in the final 17 minutes. They are trying to become fourth team to win the final two games at home since the NBA went to the 2-3-2 format for the finals in 1985.
James came in averaging 31.5 points in elimination games, highest in NBA history, according to a stat provided through the NBA by the Elias Sports Bureau.
This wasn't quite the 45-point performance in Game 6 of last year's Eastern Conference finals in Boston, but given the higher stakes may go down as more important - if the Heat follow it with another victory Thursday.
The Heat were in the same place as they were in 2011 at the end of their Big Three's first season together, coming home from Texas facing a 3-2 deficit in the finals.
This is a different team. And oh, what a different James.
They said they welcomed this challenge, a chance to show they how much mentally tougher they were than the team the Dallas Mavericks easily handled in Game 6 that night.
James made sure they did, looking nothing like the player who was so bad in the fourth quarters during that series.
He was simply unstoppable down the stretch of this one.
Kawhi Leonard had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs. Tony Parker had 19 points and eight assists, but shot just 6 of 23 from the field.
The Spurs had one final chance down 103-100, but Chris Bosh blocked Danny Green's 3-pointer from the corner as time expired.
Bosh had said Green wouldn't get open the way he has all series - and he didn't.
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ransom hit back-to-back homers in a four-run first inning and that was plenty for Jeff Samardzija, who pitched the Chicago Cubs over the St. Louis Cardinals 4-2 Tuesday night.
Chicago started fast against Adam Wainwright (10-4) and broke a five-game losing streak in St. Louis.
Pinch-runner Shane Robinson was called out for interference while trying to break up a double play to end the game.
Carlos Beltran hit his team-high 17th homer for the Cardinals, who lost for the third time in five games but still lead the majors with a 45-26 record.
Samardzija (4-7) gave up two runs and seven hits in 8 1-3 innings. He struck out six and walked one for his first win since May 27, a 7-0 shutout against the Chicago White Sox.
The Cardinals cut the lead to 4-2 on an RBI single by Yadier Molina with one out in the ninth.
Kevin Gregg got David Freese to ground into a game-ending double play for his 10th save in as many opportunities. Robinson interfered with shortstop Starlin Castro on the pivot at second base.
Wainwright was trying to become the majors' first 11-game winner. The Cubs tied a season high with four runs in the first - they also did it in the first inning of a 10-7 loss to San Francisco on April 14.
Wainwright gave up back-to-back homers for the third time in his career. He allowed four earned runs on seven hits over seven innings.
Wainwright had won his previous five starts, but has not beaten the Cubs since Sept. 24, 2010. Wainwright, who bounced back to retire 12 in a row, had given up a total of four first-inning runs over his first 14 starts this season.
The Cubs' first-inning runs all came after two outs. Nate Schierholtz and Alfonso Soriano hit consecutive doubles before Sweeney unloaded with his second homer of the season to make it 3-0. Ransom followed with his eighth homer.
Samardzija never let a runner past second base in the first five innings and was helped out by three double plays.
Beltran homered off the right-field foul pole with two outs in the sixth. Molina went 3 for 3 and leads the NL with a .363 average.
NOTES: Schierholtz has hit safely in a career-best 10 straight games. ... St. Louis OF Jon Jay has gone 215 successive games without making an error in center. He is second in team history behind Curt Flood (226). Jay last made an error on Aug. 24, 2011. His streak is the longest current run in the NL. .... Chicago signed LHP Rob Zastryzny, their second-round draft choice. ... St. Louis rookie right-hander Shelby Miller (8-4, 2.08) left after five innings of Monday's 5-2 win due to cramps caused by dehydration. He will not miss a start. ... Chicago pitchers have a league-leading 22 RBI this season.... The Cardinals signed LHP Rob Kaminsky, their second first-round selection. The 28th overall pick, Kaminsky is from St. Joseph's Regional High in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.