DENVER — Matt Holliday almost felt bad robbing his good friend of an extra-base hit with a leaping catch at the wall.
After all, Todd Helton is retiring at the end of the season. Not exactly the going away present Holliday wanted to give his former teammate.
“Todd wasn’t thrilled about that,” said Holliday, who played five seasons in Colorado. “He’s like, ‘I don’t mind you getting hits …'”
Holliday did his share of hitting Tuesday night, collecting four, including a two-run homer, to help the St. Louis Cardinals take over sole possession of the NL Central with an 11-4 victory over the Rockies.
The Cardinals entered the night tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost 5-2 at home to San Diego. St. Louis reduced its magic number for clinching a playoff spot to five with 11 games remaining.
“You like gaining a game on them,” Holliday said. “But there are still a lot of games left. We have to keep winning games, make it hard on them.”
Joe Kelly (9-4) baffled the Rockies as he allowed three hits over five sharp innings before turning a 10-0 lead over to the bullpen. The hard-throwing right-hander could’ve possibly stayed in longer, but he was dealing with tightness in his upper right calf.
No sense taking a risk, Kelly explained, especially this late in the season. Kelly has been one of the team’s most consistent pitchers since becoming a permanent member of the rotation in July.
“It’s not bad,” Kelly said. “I still had my stuff tonight, still throwing pretty decently hard. Just covering first base, felt a little more tight than usual. I thought it was a good idea to get me some rest, get me out of there.”
Juan Nicasio (8-8) struggled with his command, lasting just 2 2/3 innings and allowing eight runs, which tied a career high. He constantly fell behind in counts, leading to more fastballs.
“You see what happens when you get behind in the count,” Nicasio said.
Holliday led an 18-hit night by the Cardinals, who had seven players with at least two hits. Holliday finished 4 for 4 with a walk, double and two-run homer. He also drove in three runs and scored twice.
“When we get it going like that, it’s hard to stop us,” Holliday said.
The Cardinals ran away with the game in the third when they sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six times. Daniel Descalso had a two-run triple in the decisive inning, while Holliday added a double and an RBI single.
Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer finished 2 for 3 with a walk and an RBI to raise his average to.331, which is tops in the NL.
Kelly hardly seemed intimidated in his first start at Coors Field. He didn’t allow a base runner to reach as far as third base until the fourth inning. He wiggled out of that jam when first baseman Matt Adams corralled Josh Rutledge’s liner.
Once Kelly was out of the game, the Rockies went to work as they scored four runs off reliever Carlos Martinez in the seventh. But the bullpen shut down the Rockies from there, with Kevin Siegrist striking out pinch-hitter Jordan Pacheco to end the game.
Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter was frequently on base for the Cardinals, with two singles and a hit by pitch. He leads the league hits (187), doubles (51) and multi-hit games (60).
Yadier Molina gave the Cardinals a lead in the first inning with a two-out single to center. Molina is one of the top hitters in the league with runners in scoring position.
Helton nearly tied the game in the bottom half of the first, but Holliday made a leaping catch against the fence in left field.
The 40-year-old Helton announced last weekend his decision to retire after his 17th season with the Rockies. He leaves as the franchise’s leader in virtually every offensive category.
Since announcing his decision, Helton has received warm receptions each time he’s stepped up to the plate.
“He deserves it,” Holliday said. NOTES: Kelly is 9-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 14 starts this season. … The only Cardinals starter without a hit was OF Carlos Beltran. … St. Louis will send RHP Adam Wainwright (16-9) to the mound on Wednesday, while the Rockies counter with RHP Tyler Chatwood (7-4). … Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado missed the game after aggravating his right thumb on Monday. “His thumb is real tender,” Rockies manager Walt Weiss said. … Rockies C Yorvit Torrealba replaced Wilin Rosario (right calf soreness) in the third inning. “I see him being down for a couple of days,” Weiss said.