PITTSBURGH -- Mike Matheny was almost in awe when he talked about Matt Holliday's home run.
"He killed it," the St. Louis Cardinals manager said. "It's hard to hit a ball that hard the opposite way but it was still going up when it hit the seats. He really hit it."
Holliday's homer was not only impressive but important as it broke a sixth-inning tie Monday night, and along with Kyle Lohse pitching five scoreless innings for his eight straight win, it helped lead the Cardinals to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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Holliday led off the sixth inning with his 24th homer, a drive to right field off A.J. Burnett that put St. Louis ahead for good at 3-2.
"It always feels good to hit the ball on the barrel, especially on a pitch up in the strike zone," Holliday said. "It was an important game for us. It's not to the point of the season where it was a must-win game but it was a good game to win."
St. Louis, which has won six of seven, moved 2½ games ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost 10-0 at Colorado, for the second NL wild-card berth. Pittsburgh fell three games behind the Cardinals with its sixth loss in seven games.
Lohse (14-2) pitched five innings before being lifted following a 34-minute rain delay in the top of the sixth. He allowed two runs and five hits while striking out three and walking none.
"It was a really tricky to decide whether to leave Kyle in the game," Matheny said. "The rain delay wasn't all that long but he was at 83 pitches and he had run the bases. I just thought it was the right call to take him out."
Lohse has not lost in 13 starts dating to June 15 and raised his career record against Pittsburgh to 9-2. He had an RBI single in the fifth inning.
Lohse did not fight Matheny's decision to lift him, especially after being thrown out at home plate while trying to score from first base on Matt Carpenter's double to end the top of the fifth inning.
"I don't want to ever come out of a game but it was the best thing to come out," Lohse said. "I didn't feel as strong as I normally would."
Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen thought the rain delay worked to St. Louis' advantage because he felt Lohse was ripe to have his winning streak snapped.
"He wasn't locating as well with his pitches as he normally does," McCutchen said. "We were able to jump on him and get a couple runs off him in that one inning. We probably would have had another chance at him but that changed with the rain."
Burnett (15-5) gave up four runs, three earned, and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings with three strikeouts and one walk. He lost at home for just second time this season in 10 decisions and 13 starts.
"I felt good but I made two bad pitches at the wrong time," Burnett said. "Had I maybe thrown a hook to [Lohse] or kept the ball lower against Holliday then maybe things turn out different."
Holliday, Allen Craig and Skip Schumaker all had two hits for the Cardinals as did McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Clint Barmes for Pittsburgh.
The Cardinals added a run in the sixth after Holliday's home run as Yadier Molina hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
The Pirates drew within a run in the seventh inning on Barmes' RBI double. They put runners on first and second in the eighth but closer Jason Motte came in and escaped the jam by getting Josh Harrison to hit into an inning-ending force play.
Motte retired the side in the ninth for his 31st save in 36 opportunities.
St. Louis had tied the score 2-2 in the fifth inning as Shumaker hit a run-scoring double and scored on the single by Lohse.
The Pirates scored the game's first two runs in the fourth on RBI singles by McCutchen and Alvarez after neither team produced a hit in the first 3 1-2 innings. Alvarez has 17 RBIs against the Cardinals this season.
"It hurt when they scored right after we did," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "One of [Burnett's] strengths all year has been the shutdown inning."
Instead, the momentum shifted to the Cardinals and Lohse can't help but think their current hot streak is coming at the right time for the defending World Series champions.
"We've felt for a long time that we've been due to play like we've been playing the last week or so," Lohse said. "We're playing really well now and it's the perfect time because we're coming down the homestretch. It's the right time of the year to win games like this."
Pittsburgh 2B Neil Walker was a late scratch because of lower back stiffness. Harrison, who was scheduled to start at shortstop, moved to second base and Barmes was inserted into the lineup. ... St. Louis 3B David Freese did not start for a third straight game because of a bruised right wrist but he pinch-hit and struck out in the eighth inning. Matheny said last year's World Series MVP will likely return to the lineup Tuesday night. Carpenter started in Freese's place. ... Attendance was just 16,700 for what was arguably the biggest game since PNC Park opened in 2001. Pittsburgh is in contention this late in the season for the first time since 1997and has not had a winning season since 1992. ... St. Louis RHP Jake Westbrook (13-9, 3.67) will face Pirates RHP James McDonald (11-6, 3.73) on Tuesday night.