Cardinals beat Giants 6-4 in NLCS opener

914803.jpg

Cardinals beat Giants 6-4 in NLCS opener

SAN FRANCISCO - Carlos Beltran hit his 14th career postseason homer and David Freese also went deep as the St. Louis Cardinals took a 6-4 lead over the San Francisco Giants after six innings of the NL championship series opener on Sunday night.

Two nights after rallying from a 6-0 deficit to win the decisive Game 5 of the division series against Washington, the Cardinals found themselves trying to hold onto that same lead.

Freese hit a two-run homer in the second and Beltran followed with one in the fourth as the Cardinals knocked out Madison Bumgarner with six runs in 3 2-3 innings.

But Lance Lynn struggled to hold onto that lead in his first postseason start after 10 career relief appearances. Lynn, an 18-game winner in the regular season, moved into the rotation to take the place of Jaime Garcia, who was taken off division series roster with an injured left shoulder.

After starting the game with three hitless innings, Lynn ran into trouble with two outs and a runner on first in the fourth. Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt followed with singles to drive in San Francisco's first run. They both scored on Gregor Blanco's triple. Brandon Crawford followed with an RBI double to make it 6-4 and Lynn left after walking pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff.

Joe Kelly got out of the jam when second baseman Daniel Descalso made a diving stop of Angel Pagan's grounder up the middle.

This marked the first time since 1958 that the two most recent World Series champions met in the postseason. That year, the New York Yankees avenged a loss in 1957 to beat the Milwaukee Braves for the title. The Cardinals were involved the only other two times that happened, losing to the Yankees in the 1943 and 28 World Series.

Bumgarner breezed through a perfect first inning but ran into trouble in the second when Yadier Molina singled on an 0-2 pitch with one out. Freese then drove a 3-2 pitch over the wall in left-center to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

That gave Freese 25 career RBIs in the postseason - tied with Molina for third most ever for the Cardinals. Only Albert Pujols (52) and Jim Edmonds (41) have more.

Bumgarner then couldn't make it out of the fourth. Descalso doubled and scored on Pete Kozma's double. Jon Jay added a two-out RBI single and Beltran ended Bumgarner's night with the homer.

George Kontos got out of the fourth and two-time NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum pitched two hitless innings as he once again excelled in his new role out of the bullpen.

Giants fans didn't know if they would be back at the ballpark this year after watching their team fall behind 2-0 in their first-round series to Cincinnati when Bumgarner lost to the Reds exactly a week ago. But San Francisco made it to the NLCS by becoming the first team ever to win three straight road games after falling behind 2-0 in a best-of-five series.

The Cardinals may have had an even more improbably comeback to get back to the NLCS. St. Louis overcame a 6-0 deficit in Game 5 of the division series to Washington - the largest ever in a winner-take-all postseason game, according to STATS LLC. The Cardinals trailed 7-5 heading into the ninth inning before scoring four runs to keep their repeat hopes alive.

Both teams kept the same roster they ended with last round. The only change was at first-base coach for the Giants, where assistant batting coach Joe Lefebvre took over after Roberto Kelly was sidelined with a concussion after being hit in the head by a ball in batting practice Saturday.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

Thomas shines again in fourth quarter, Celtics beat Hornets, 108-98

Thomas shines again in fourth quarter, Celtics beat Hornets, 108-98

BOSTON –  Late in the fourth quarter, the TD Garden was rockin' when the fans charted chanting, 'M-V-P, M-V-P' which is become a nightly serenade of sorts for Isaiah Thomas. 

It's extremely wishful thinking on Celtics Nation's part, but there is no denying his status as one of the game's best players this season. 

He delivered yet another work of art on Monday, scoring 17 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter in leading Boston to a 108-98 win against Charlotte. 

And he did the way he always seems to do it, mixing in 3-pointers with drives to the baskets and an occasional assist to keep the collapsing defenses that surround him relatively honest. 

But the numbers he's consistently posting only tell part of the narrative to what has been a fairy tale of a season for the 5-foot-9 guard who continues to defy odds on a nightly basis. 

Not only is he producing at a high level, but he's elevating the play of those around him which is reflected in the team's overall success.

Boston (26-15) hits the halfway point with its best record under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens and best by the franchise since a 32-9 start to the 2010-2011 season.

The Celtics have now won eight of their last 10 games, and 13 of 16 as they steadily pull away and establish themselves at worst being the third-best team in the East.

And against the Hornets, they got the victory with a nice blending of what they do best – shoot three-pointers and play solid, physical defense.

The game could not have gotten off to a better start for the Boston Celtics, opening with a 10-2 run that put the Hornets on their heels quickly.

Not surprisingly, the Hornets rallied to take the lead in the first quarter before Boston’s second unit stepped up.

Leading the way in the final minute of the first quarter was Jaylen Brown, just minutes removed from a moving pre-game speech honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on MLK Day.

With Boston trailing 30-29, Brown scored the final five points of the quarter to give Boston a 34-30 lead.

The second quarter saw both teams pull ahead by slim margins, neither showing an ability to pull away and take full control of the game.

But again it was the Celtics making all the necessary plays at both ends of the floor in the closing moments.

Trailing 50-48, Boston would close out the half with an 11-3 run to lead 59-53 at the half.

In the third quarter, Boston began to give itself a little more breathing room fueled in large part by their defense which not only limited the Hornets scoring but took advantage of great spacing to get open jumpers or baskets in the paint with little resistance or help-side defense.

A back-to-the-basket hook shot by Al Horford gave Boston a 77-67 lead, the game’s first double-digit margin.

The Celtics increased their lead to 12 points following a pull-up jumper along the baseline by Avery Bradley who was back in the lineup after missing the previous four games with an Achilles injury.

Going into the fourth, the Celtics were ahead 80-71.

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

Off day for Tuukka Rask plays into rough loss for the Bruins

BOSTON – Many times this season Tuukka Rask has bailed out the Bruins when the team was at less than their best.

Monday afternoon was not one of those times as the Bruins goaltender was knocked out of the game after two periods on the way to a listless 4-0 shutout loss to the New York Islanders. Rask allowed three goals on 15 shots in the game’s opening 40 minutes, and was responsible for a very soft goal during the Isles’ three-score barrage in the second period.

After the game Rask wasn’t ducking responsibility for the subpar performance, and admitted he was simply beaten to the short side post on a bad angle shot from Islanders forward Josh Bailey for the soft-serve special.

“I was just late. I picked the wrong seal. It’s one of those [goals] that I should have stopped,” said Rask. “Claude [Julien] mentioned [not taking the Isles lightly] before the game, and the last game we played here they got us. It was a bit of a flat game again last time, and we just woke up too late today. We didn’t want to underestimate them. Any team in this league is good even though the standings might show otherwise. We just never got it going.”

Rask was being kind because the Bruins never actually woke up at all in the first B's shutout loss to the Islanders on home ice in franchise history, and that includes when the Finnish netminder was yanked after the second intermission.

Julien’s act of pulling Rask from a 3-0 game was clearly designed to spark the struggling hockey club, but it did nothing to breathe life into a dead hockey club that simply allowed another goal playing out the string in the third period.

“There are two things that can happen. No. 1, you hope you can spark your team because of the performance in front of him,” said Julien. “If it doesn’t spark your team, [at least] you’re not wasting your number one goaltender’s energy.”

One would expect that Rask will be back between the pipes on Wednesday night against the Red Wings in Detroit, and in hindsight perhaps this Monday matinee might have been a good time to see what Zane McIntyre has to offer as the backup. Instead it will go down as an “off” game for Rask and another inexcusable no-show on home ice for the Black and Gold.