ST. LOUIS -- The big hit that Joe Kelly kept the Brewers from collecting several times during his 5 2/3-inning start was the same one he provided to spark the Cardinals to a 9-3, series-opening win that catcher Yadier Molina also had his handprints all over.
Kelly's go-ahead RBI single in the fourth, coupled with Molina's display of accuracy and instinct, propelled the Cardinals toward scoring nine unanswered runs on Friday night. St. Louis has now taken 12 of the last 17 regular-season meetings between these two clubs.
"It's a huge win for us after a bad game yesterday in Colorado," Molina said. "It's good to start with a win."
What the Cardinals are starting is a stretch of in which they play 16 of 19 games at Busch Stadium.
Last year, it wasn't until late August that the Cardinals jumpstarted their storybook run to the postseason. This club, though, might find no better an opportunity to begin making a dent in the division deficit than during this home-heavy portion of the schedule.
"It seems like we were here a year ago," general manager John Mozeliak noted on Friday. "There's nothing new in that regard. I do think that we just have to worry about ourselves and not focus on what's happening ahead of us."
With the Reds and Pirates locked in a three-game series this weekend, the Cardinals were certain to have a chance to gain ground on one team Friday. It turned out to be the Pirates, whose loss, when paired with St. Louis' win, inches the Cardinals to within three games of Pittsburgh's win total.
St. Louis has won seven of their eight home games since the All-Star break.
"In here, we can control what we do," manager Mike Matheny said. "Do we aim to win this division? Absolutely. Do we start listening to the numbers and what everybody says we can't do? I absolutely hope not."
The way things started on Friday, it looked as if Kelly's night would be brief. He allowed five hits in the first two innings, during which the Brewers jumped out to a 3-0 lead. A two-out, two-run single by opposing starter Randy Wolf especially stung.
Trouble brewed throughout the next few innings, too, but the rookie somehow dodged damage to the run column. With his fastball command abandoning him, Kelly turned to his offspeed pitches with more regularity. The shift in approach worked just enough.
Though 15 of the first 21 batters Kelly faced reached base, the Brewers managed only those three second-inning runs.
"It was tough in the beginning," Kelly said. "It was definitely not an easy game. I mentally had to stay in it, physically had to stay in it."
Molina's presence was also crucial. Not only did he guide Kelly through his start, but Molina threw out two baserunners and nailed another trying to advance to third on a bunt with no outs. He did it while nursing a bruised right thumb.
"He's still a little beat up, though you would never know with how he threw the ball," Matheny said. "He worked hard today. He helped Joe get through that and then added in everywhere he could."
That included contributions on the bases, too.
Two of the three times Molina got on base Friday, he took off to steal. Both times he drew errant throws from Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado. It was all a part of an ugly night on the field for Milwaukee. The Brewers committed four errors for the second straight game. Those late miscues helped the Cardinals tally five insurance runs.
"We let them run away from us is what we did, instead of making the plays, keeping it close, we let them have extra opportunities," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "With a great offense, you can't give them any extra outs."
Before the game got out of hand, the Cardinals had to peck away.
After Kelly continued his Houdini-act in the top half of the fourth, the Cardinals scored four times in the bottom part of the frame. Hits by Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran put two in scoring position for David Freese, who drove both in with a single.
Descalso followed with a two-out, game-tying single.
"That's the way it's gone for us this year," Descalso said. "Hitting has kind of been contagious."
Two batters later, Matheny had a game-altering decision. He could stick with Kelly, who was clearly struggling on the mound, to bat with two on and two out. Or he could take his chances with a pinch-hitter.
Matheny sent up Kelly, who rewarded the choice by pushing an RBI single to left. The hit was Kelly's third in 18 Major League at-bats.
"I love hitting," said Kelly. "He threw me an Eephus curveball. I don't know what it was. It fooled me. Right when I slapped it, I was like, 'Alright, I can beat this out.' It went through the hole and I was pretty excited about that."
Kelly calmed on the mound once he had the lead, too. He retired five of the final six batters he faced.
"A lot of young guys like that could kind of fold over," Descalso said. "But he battled."
In doing so, Kelly secured his second win in 10 big-league starts. His last victory came on June 22.
"There are days when you don't have your best pitch and you have to figure out ways to get people out," Matheny said. "I think that's how are team is -- we have to find ways to win."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.