Cardinals beat Bucs, pull back into tie atop NL Central

Matt Holliday and David Freese each knocked in two runs and Joe Kelly continued his dominance as a starting pitcher, helping the St. Louis Cardinals salvage the finale of a three-game set against the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 7-2 decision Sunday at PNC Park.

Allen Craig collected two hits, an RBI and two runs scored, while Yadier Molina added a pair of hits, an RBI and a run scored for the Cardinals, who snapped a three-game slide to move back into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the NL Central.

Kelly (7-3) held the Pirates to one run on four hits and two walks over six solid frames to improve to 7-0 in 10 starts since joining St. Louis' starting rotation in early July.

"This is as good as we've seen him for an extended period of time," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said of Kelly. "I think it's pretty exciting to think about how much better he can be."

St. Louis did most of its damage against Pittsburgh left-hander Kris Johnson, who was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis prior to the game to make his first career start.

Johnson (0-2) failed to make it out of the third inning, surrendering five runs on seven hits and two walks in just two-plus innings to absorb the loss.

"When you get behind hitters, especially hitters like these, you're going to get hurt," Johnson remarked.

Marlon Byrd registered two of Pittsburgh's six hits while knocking in a run and scoring another for the Pirates, who were looking to complete their first three-game sweep of the Cardinals in Pittsburgh since Sept. 12-14, 2008.

The Cardinals jumped on Johnson in the first, as Matt Carpenter clubbed a leadoff double and Shane Robinson followed with a walk. After a Holliday fly out, both runners moved up a base on a wild pitch before Craig looped a single into shallow center field to score Carpenter from third for a 1-0 lead.

Molina followed with a line-drive single to left to plate Robinson and double St. Louis' lead before Freese walked on five pitches to load the bases for Jon Jay, who laced a sacrifice fly to center to score Craig for a 3-0 lead.

The Cardinals added to their edge in the third, as Craig and Molina opened the frame with back-to-back singles before Freese followed with a double into the gap in left-center to score both runners for a 5-0 cushion.

St. Louis tacked on two more runs in the sixth. Kelly and Carpenter stroked back-to-back two-out singles before Robinson walked to load the bases. After a brief meeting at the mound, Holliday punched a base hit through the right side of the infield to score Kelly and Carpenter for a 7-0 cushion.

Pittsburgh manufactured a run in the home half when Byrd singled home Andrew McCutchen, who was hit by a pitch with one out before moving into scoring position on a groundout.

Byrd led off the home half of the ninth with a double to left and moved to third on a fly out before scoring on John Buck's single to center.

Edward Mujica quickly put Pittsburgh's comeback bid to rest by getting Jordy Mercer to ground into a game-ending 6-4-3 double play.

Game Notes

Pittsburgh first baseman Justin Morneau, who was acquired from the Twins on Saturday, made his Pirates debut and finished 1-for-3 with a walk ... Prior to the game, St. Louis activated catcher Tony Cruz off the 15-day disabled list and recalled outfielder Adron Chambers from Triple-A Memphis ... In addition to recalling Johnson, Pittsburgh activated outfielder Travis Snider from the 15-day disabled list and selected the contract of pitcher Kyle Farnsworth from Indianapolis ... The Pirates went 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position.