Allen Craig and Yadier Molina hit back-to- back homers during a six-run sixth inning and the St. Louis Cardinals downed the Cincinnati Reds, 8-5, on Friday in the opener of a three-game series between the NL Central contenders.

The Cardinals batted around in the sixth, which saw Craig belt a three-run blast before Molina sent a go-ahead shot over the fence in right field.

Craig and Molina both finished 3-for-5 with two runs scored for the Cardinals, who were coming off a sweep of the Astros. They have won four in a row and now trail the division-leading Reds by six games.

Joe Kelly (4-5) picked up the win after allowing one run on four hits over three innings in relief of Lance Lynn, who lasted just two-plus frames in the shortest start of his career. The righty gave up four runs on six hits with two walks and a strikeout.

Jason Motte fanned Scott Rolen with two aboard in the ninth to pick up his 30th save of the season.

Todd Frazier had three hits, a walk, an RBI and a run scored for the Reds, who went 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Mat Latos (10-4) allowed seven runs on nine hits over five-plus innings and fell to 0-2 in three starts against St. Louis this season.

Carlos Beltran legged out an infield single to begin the sixth -- the first of seven straight batters to reach base. Matt Holliday followed with a base hit before Craig sent his 19th homer of the year over the fence in straightaway center.

"I was trying to get a sac fly in that situation," said Craig. "I was glad I got enough of it."

Craig, who extended his career-best hit steak to 13 games, entered Friday leading the NL in batting with runners in scoring position (.390).

Molina's 17th homer of the season gave the Cardinals a 6-5 edge and Latos was relieved after walking David Freese.

Skip Schumaker and Rafeal Furcal then wrapped consecutive singles around Alfredo Simon's wild pitch to push across another run before pinch-hitter Matt Carpenter capped the outburst with a sacrifice fly.

"That inning started with (Latos) not covering first base and that put him in the stretch right away," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "That was the break that they needed and after that the flood gates opened and they opened quickly."

Fernando Salas struck out the side in the bottom half, Edward Mujica fanned a pair during a 1-2-3 seventh and Mitchell Boggs tossed a scoreless eighth to preserve the lead.

The Reds went up 2-0 in the first inning when Brandon Phillips singled home Zack Cozart and Ryan Ludwick plated Drew Stubbs with a double-play groundout.

Craig and Molina singled to start the second and the former crossed the plate on Freese's doubleplay groundout, making it 2-1.

Ryan Hanigan responded with a sac fly in the home half, scoring Frazier, and Lynn was pulled after allowing consecutive singles to start the third. Frazier made it 4-1 with an RBI base hit off of Kelly.

Molina singled with two down in the fourth, moved up on a wild pitch, and came home on a base hit by Freese.

In the fifth, Jay Bruce and Frazier singled before Rolen slapped an RBI double down the line in right for a 5-2 lead.

Game Notes

It was Lynn's first career start against the Reds ... Latos was 5-1 in his previous 11 starts ... Cozart doubled in the first, extending his career-high hit streak to 11 games ... Frazier extended his career-high hit streak to nine games.