ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Adam Wainwright lost the lead in the seventh, and then he lost his temper.
The St. Louis Cardinals ace strenuously objected to being pulled before Ian Kinsler's go-ahead hit that helped the Texas Rangers complete a soggy three-game interleague sweep with a 2-1 victory Sunday night.
Hearing manager Mike Matheny's assessment that he'd been "laboring" and that it had been "two pretty stressful innings in a row" got Wainwright even hotter.
"He's wrong," Wainwright said after missing a chance to become the National League's first 11-game winner. "You don't want to call your manager out and I would never do that. Laboring is not what I was doing."
After noting Matheny was in charge and criticizing himself for allowing the tying hit, Wainwright (10-5) had more to say on the issue of fatigue. He gave up an earned run in 6 2-3 innings, ending a string of six straight outings of seven innings or longer during which he'd gone 5-1.
"If you think I'm laboring because I went into deep counts, I went into deep counts all day," Wainwright said. "Made good pitches. That's his opinion."
Wainwright said there was no use trying to persuade Matheny to leave him in the game, because the umpires had already been informed of a double switch. He struck out six and walked one.
"No amount of lobbying ... I wasn't going to stay in that game," Wainwright said. "But I mean, no, I didn't want to come out of that game. I felt I was as strong or stronger at the end than I was in the beginning."
He wouldn't say whether he confronted Matheny in the dugout.
"Even if I did, I would never tell y'all that," Wainwright told reporters. "That's something that stays in here."
The finale of Texas' first visit to Busch Stadium since losing Games 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series, and first time ever in the regular season, was delayed 2 hours and 59 minutes by heavy rain with less than half of a near-capacity crowd sticking around. The first pitch Saturday night was pushed back 1 hour, 6 minutes and was the third rain delay of the Cardinals' 3-4 homestand.
"Well, the other team's dealing with it, too," Matheny said. "It's odd. You don't want to go through the season like this."
Rookie Nick Tepesch had a resurgent outing for Texas, allowing a run on four hits in 5 2-3 innings after surrendering 11 runs in 8 2-3 innings the previous two starts. Kinsler and David Murphy had two hits apiece for the AL West-leading Rangers, who have won five in a row after losing six straight.
The Cardinals, who have the majors' best record at 47-29, were swept for the first time this season and totaled just seven runs.
"I got good pitches to hit," said second-place hitter Carlos Beltran, who was 0 for 4. "Today, I just couldn't do anything with them. The whole series I got pitches right down the middle."
Leadoff man Matt Carpenter homered to start the sixth, singled and walked for St. Louis.
Robbie Ross (4-1) got the last out of the sixth to strand a pair of runners and Joe Nathan worked around two hits in the ninth to earn his third save of the series and 25th overall in 26 chances.
Pete Kozma, whose fielding error at shortstop set the stage for Kinsler's go-ahead hit, lined into an inning-ending double play.
Wainwright retired the first two batters before Murphy doubled off the base of the right-field wall in the seventh and scored on a single by Leonys Martin to chase the Cardinals ace. Reliever Trevor Rosenthal appeared to get the Cardinals out of the inning still tied but Kozma dropped pinch hitter Jurickson Profar's weak pop fly, and Kinsler followed with the go-ahead hit.
Tepesch, a former Missouri star from suburban Kansas City, held the Cardinals hitless before David Freese singled with one out in the fifth. He struck out three and walked two.
The Rangers had two on with one out in the sixth with the heart of the order coming up after Elvis Andrus drew a full-count walk, but Wainwright got Nelson to pop out to shallow left and Adrian Beltre on a foul ball out.
Both teams have Monday off with the Rangers headed to New York to face the Yankees and the Cardinals opening a two-game set at Houston - but both teams apparently had little interest in a postponement Sunday night.
Notes: Rookie LHP Martin Perez gave Rangers starters their first win of the month Saturday. Relievers claimed the first eight, half of them by Neal Cotts. ... Lance Berkman, who helped the Cardinals beat the Rangers in the 2011 World Series, did not play in the series due to knee soreness and because there was no DH in the NL park. Profar didn't start, either, after starting 16 games earlier this month. ... Actor David Guintoli, a St. Louis native who stars on the TV show Grimm, waited out the delay and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
BOSTON (AP) -- Jonathan Toews watched the end of the fifth game of the Stanley Cup Final from the Blackhawks bench, unable to play after a hit to his head.
Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron was in a Chicago hospital after leaving the United Center by ambulance.
As the Stanley Cup Final approaches a sixth and potential clinching game on Monday night, the attention shifted from the players on the ice to the ones who might not make it there, including two of the top forwards and biggest stars in the series.
"It's not the best situation for either team," Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said Sunday after both teams flew back to Boston. "But it's a tough sport, and injuries happen. When you leave it all out there to help your team win, that's all part of the game."
Bergeron was injured in the second period of Game 5 on Saturday night, which the Blackhawks won 3-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. He made two brief appearances on the ice in the third period but something was obviously wrong and he was unable to complete either shift.
Toews, who won the Selke Award as the NHL's top defensive forward - Bergeron was a finalist - missed the entire third period after a shot to the head from Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
"They're both great players," Chicago winger Patrick Sharp said. "I think any coach in the league, any player in the league would like to have those guys on their team. They take pride in taking faceoffs, playing well away from the puck, making their linemates better, (they're) both big parts of the locker room.
"I can't speak for what Boston is dealing with, with Bergeron. I know I don't need to say much about Jonathan. I think everyone knows what we think of him in our locker room. Hopefully we can have him back for (Monday)."
Bergeron, who was taken to the hospital for observation, was released later Saturday night and rejoined his teammates for a team meal.
"He was crushing some food," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said Sunday.
Bergeron was on the team flight back from Chicago. After the Bruins' bus arrived at the TD Garden in the afternoon, he walked without crutches or assistance to a car and was driven away.
"He's good. He came back with us and everything so hopefully he can play," Marchand said. "He looked really good today. He had a nice suit on, very dashing. Obviously, he's a big part of the team and hopefully he can play."
The Blackhawks lost Toews after Boychuk knocked him down in the slot, making contact with his head. Boychuk wasn't penalized, and NHL spokesman John Dellapina said on Sunday that the league reviewed the hit and there will be no supplemental discipline.
"I think they said it was clean, wasn't it? Then I agree with them," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I'm not going to hide from that. If it wasn't a clean hit - I've been a guy that supported those kind of things that we need to get out of the game. But it was a clean hit."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville alluded to the contact with the head but then said, "I'm not going to go there."
Toews was tied with Patrick Kane for the Blackhawks' team lead with 23 goals during the regular season. Since being reunited with Kane on Chicago's top line in Game 4, Chicago has rallied to take the lead in the best-of-seven series. Before he was knocked out of the Game 5, Toews assisted on both of Kane's goals.
"He's our leader," Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya said. "You know, he's one of those guys, and when he's full-speed he gives everything he's got every game. That's something that is tough to replace."
Quenneville said Toews was doing much better and the team is optimistic he will be able to play in Game 6.
"We'll see how he is. I think the progress today, he's doing real good," Quenneville said. "We'll visit in the morning, and he seemed fine. So nothing has changed. Nothing is different. We'll keep an eye on him, and we'll go from there."
With or without Toews and Bergeron, the Blackhawks have a chance to clinch their second Stanley Cup title in four seasons on Monday night in Boston. If they lose, the series returns to Chicago for a decisive seventh game on Wednesday.
And that, Julien said, is why he wasn't worried about whether Toews will play or not.
"I think I should be looking in my backyard and make sure I've got my guys playing tomorrow before I start worrying about the game plan with them," he said. "Right now we know it's up to us to ... bring our `A' game if we want a chance to win. That part of it should be more important than who they have and don't have in their lineup."
Allan Simonsen's death after a spinout cast a pall over the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The race still had more than 23 1/2 hours to go, but there was no call to stop it on Saturday after the first driver fatality in 16 years.
Simonsen's partner Carina, the mother to their daughter born last year, made sure of that.
It was her "specific request" that Simonsen's team, Aston Martin Racing, continue the world's most renowned endurance race in honor of the Dane.
Just 10 minutes into the race, Simonsen spun and skidded into the barrier at the Tertre Rouge corner where cars typically reach speeds of up to 105 mph. The 34-year-old Simonsen was taken to a hospital, where he died of his injuries, race organizers said.
The violence of the impact showed as a tire from Simonsen's car rolled on the track while a door hung wide open. The race was held up for nearly an hour to repair the guard rail.
"Tragically, and despite the best efforts of the emergency services in attendance, Allan's injuries proved fatal," Aston Martin said in a statement.
Simonsen's death marked the first driver fatality since 1997 when Sebastien Enjolras was killed in pre-qualifying. The last driver fatality during the race was Jo Gartner in 1986.
Simonsen was participating for the seventh time at the endurance race, which is won by the team that completes the most laps in 24 hours with up to three drivers alternating. He finished second in the GT2 class at Le Mans three years ago. He clocked the fastest time in qualifying on Thursday in the GTE-Am class.
Jean Todt, the FIA president, and Pierre Fillon, president of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest which organizes the race, paid tribute to Simonsen.
"Allan was an extremely talented and experienced sportscar driver who had raced in every corner of the world and was highly respected by his peers and his team," they said in a joint statement. "For many in endurance racing, Allan was above all a good friend who displayed his passion for racing on and off the track. His loss will be felt by the FIA, the ACO and the greater motorsport family."
Simonsen and Danish co-drivers Kristian Poulsen and Christoffer Nygaard were leading the GTE-Am class in the world endurance championship after topping their category at Silverstone in April and finishing second in Spa-Francorchamps last month.
"Aston Martin Racing will not make any further comment until the precise circumstances of the accident have been determined," Simonsen's team said.
Toyota Racing team president Yoshiaki Kinoshita expressed his condolences, along with drivers from around the world.
Formula One driver Jenson Button tweeted: "Allan Simonsen RIP. Such a tragic loss. A true fighter & a true racer. Safety is something we need 2 improve on in Motorsport."
IndyCar Series leader Helio Castroneves tweeted: "Very sad to know about the fatal accident of Allan Simonsen on Le Mans today. Praying for him and (his) family."
Another IndyCar driver Tony Kanaan tweeted: "Such a tragic news on the passing of (at)AllanSimonsen. Sad day in motorsports again. Thoughts and prayers are with his family."
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.