CINCINNATI, Ohio -- No denying the importance of this one. The Cardinals knew they needed it. Needed it to start a defining road trip with a step forward. Needed it to close the gap and slow down those Reds in the NL Central. Needed it to keep their own surge going. With one big inning and a fabulous job by the bullpen, they got it. Allen Craig and Yadier Molina homered during a six-run sixth inning on Friday night, and the defending World Series champions opened an important trip by beating the Cincinnati Reds 8-5 and moving six games back of the NL Central leaders. "A really big game for us to start the road trip against our top competitor and get a victory," Craig said. The Cardinals big comeback off Mat Latos (10-4) started a 10-day trip against the Reds, Pirates and Nationals. Craig and Molina had three hits apiece as St. Louis piled up 14 in all, pulling away against a starter who has been tough to hit in August and a bullpen that is the NLs best. "Without question, one of those character wins," manager Mike Matheny said. "It says a lot about this team. Well have to be that kind of team the rest of the way." Cincinnati got the better of it early, knocking starter Lance Lynn out of the game in the third inning. Joe Kelly (4-5) fanned six in three innings of relief. Jason Motte pitched the ninth for his 30th save in 35 chances, giving up a pair of singles before fanning Scott Rolen to end it. St. Louis bullpen allowed only six hits and fanned 13 over the last seven innings "Weve got a great offence and a great bullpen, and they bailed us out tonight," Lynn said. "Thats the fun part of this team." Its an important weekend for the Reds as well. Theyre honouring former shortstop and team captain Barry Larkin, who was inducted into baseballs Hall of Fame this summer. His No. 11 will be retired by the team before Saturdays game and was stamped in chalk behind second base for the start of the series. The opener came down to one big inning. Latos tried to extend his August dominance -- only three earned runs allowed in his four previous starts. He suffered a meltdown in the sixth inning, when he gave up four runs without retiring a batter. "I went from having good command of my fastball to not," Latos said. The inning started poorly for Latos, who was slow to cover first base on Carlos Beltrans grounder, letting him reach on an infield single. Matt Holliday singled, and Craig followed with his 19th homer, trying it 5-all. Three pitches later, Molina hit an opposite-field homer -- his fourth off the Reds this season. Latos left after facing five batters in the inning without getting an out. St. Louis completed its six-run rally off Alfredo Simon, matching the biggest inning against the Reds this season. The Cardinals are in a familiar spot when it comes to making up ground. Last year, they trailed Atlanta for the NL wild card by 10 1/2 games on Aug. 24, but caught the Braves to make the playoffs and went on to win their 11th World Series title. Theyve started another late push, winning four in a row and 13 of their past 20 to move a season-high 13 games over .500. The Reds are holding on while waiting for their best hitter to get back. First baseman Joey Votto did a full workout before the game and said hes "not too far off" from returning. Votto, the leagues MVP in 2010, was batting .342 when he had surgery for torn knee cartilage on July 17. The rest of the lineup has done an impeccable job without him, going 26-13. Rookie shortstop Zack Cozart led off the Reds first with a double, extending his hitting streak to a career-best 12 games. Rookie infielder Todd Fraziers RBI single extended his streak to a career-high nine games, helping the Reds get the early advantage. Craig had a couple of streaks in play. He led off the second inning with a single that extended his run to 13 games, the longest active one in the majors. The hit also snapped his 0-for-15 career mark at Great American Ball Park. Notes: The teams have split their 10 games this season. ... In his past two starts combined, Lynn has lasted 6 1-3 innings and given up 10 hits and seven earned runs. ... Latos hadnt allowed more than one homer in any of his past six starts. ... Molina is batting .382 against the Reds this season. ... Motte became the 18th Cardinal to reach 30 saves. http://www.giantssportsfansshop.com/Nik ... te-Jersey/
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. The second-seeded former world No. 1 Sharapova eased past 19th-seeded fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-2 to set up a semifinal match with the 2011 Aussie finalist Li.Orlando, FL (Sports Network) - Its that time of year again for the NBAs elite to show off their skills during a wide array of special events leading up to Sundays 61st All-Star Game at Orlandos Amway Center. The house that Dwight Howard built will feature the highly-anticipated Slam Dunk contest, Three-point Shootout, Skills Challenge and Shooting Stars challenge in the Saturday night showcase. You can catch all the action live on TSN2, beginning at 8pm et/5pm pt. The contestants set to defy gravity in the Slam Dunk contest are Houstons Chase Budinger, Indianas Paul George, Utahs Jeremy Evans and Derrick Williams of the Timberwolves. Its not a sexy list of jumpers, but this event is arguably the best. Evans is replacing New Yorks Iman Shumpert because of injury. There will be no chance for a repeat champion in this contest since Clippers superstar Blake Griffin will not defend his crown much to the chagrin of the fans. New rules were put in place for the event and it will consist of just one round with each player having three chances. Fan voting will begin after all four players have completed their first dunk. Since the 2008 festivities, fans have determined the winner of the dunk contest. Another popular event for All-Star weekend is the three-point shootout. Miamis James Jones is set to defend his title against Thunder star Kevin Durant, whos taking the spot of Atlantas Joe Johnson because of knee tendinitis, Miami teammate Mario Chalmers, Orlandos Ryan Anderson, Kevin Love of the Timberwolves and New Jerseys Anthony Morrow. Jones dethroned Bostons Paul Pierce a year ago by scoring 20 points in the final round, besting Pierces 18 points and Celtics sharpshooter Ray Allens 15. The competitors will participate in a two-round tournament and the top three finishers from the opening round will advance to the finals. Five shooting stations will be set up around the three-point line and four official game balls worth one point each and one All-Star 2012 commemorative "money ball" worth two points at each spot. Each player will have one minute to shoot as many balls as he can. In the final round, players will shoot in ascending ordder of first-round scores.dddddddddddd The last two-time winner of this event was Jason Kapono back in 2007 and 2008. Golden States Stephen Curry wont get a chace to defend his Skills Challenge title this year, as he was a late scratch from the event because of a strained tendon in his right foot. Instead Rajon Rondo of the Celtics will take his place and try his luck against a handful of talented ballers in Irving, Wall, Deron Williams of the Nets, Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and San Antonios Tony Parker. Miamis Dwyane Wade and Steve Nash of the Suns are the only multiple winners of this event. The Skills Challenge is a two-round timed obstacle course with dribbling drills, passing and shooting stations. The three participants with the fastest times from the first round move on to the final round. Squads from New York, Texas, Atlanta and All-Star Game host Orlando will battle in the Haier Shooting Stars. The host city will have Magic guard Jameer Nelson, WNBA star Marie Ferdinand-Harris and former Orlando great Dennis Scott. Team Atlanta was supposed to feature Johnson, but the Hawks are resting their superstar, so veteran Jerry Stackhouse will take his place. Lindsay Harding of the Atlanta Dream and NBA TV analyst and former Hawk Steve Smith are also on the Atlanta squad. Fields, Libertys Cappie Pondexter and Knicks legendary sharp- shooter Allan Houston will represent New York during the event. As for Team Texas, the Rockets Chandler Parsons will join Sophia Young of the San Antonio Silver Stars and TNT analyst Kenny Smith. Team Atlanta defeated Team Texas in last years event. Also, the sixth NBA D-League All-Star Game will take place at the Orange County Convention Center today. The 61st NBA All-Star Game caps the weekend on Sunday at Amway Center. "As a premier entertainment destination with a new, state-of-the-art arena and a wide array of hospitality options, Orlando is an obvious and compelling choice to host this celebration of our game," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "We thank the Magic, Orlando and Orange County for once again welcoming NBA All-Star." Orlando also hosted the 1992 All-Star Game. ' ' '