ST. LOUIS -- Inside the batting cages, Carlos Beltran was preparing himself for a potential pinch-hit appearance, while Jason Motte attempted to finish off his first five-out save in a year.
And from inside, Beltran made a potential game-saving play.
Though he never entered the game, Beltran's insistence that the Cardinals appeal a ninth-inning hit by the Mets helped preserve the club's 5-4 win on Monday. The victory, which came in front of 40,952 at Busch Stadium, followed the 4-6, three-city road trip the Cardinals were eager to move past.
Mark it down as Beltran's 10th assist of the season: Nine from right field. One from the dugout.
"Our MVP of the game today is Carlos Beltran, who never hit the field," manager Mike Matheny said of the right fielder, who was sidelined by a left knee bruise.
"Absolutely a huge play."
The Mets had already climbed out of a four-run hole and appeared poised to wipe away the Cardinals' lead when Andres Torres raced to second on a line-drive to right field. As Beltran watched Torres' sprint around the bases on television, though, something caught his eye.
"When he was running, he was looking at the ball and he never looked at the bag," Beltran said. "I saw sand coming off around the bag area."
The sand, Beltran said, indicated that Torres' foot never touched first base. Beltran made the short walk to the dugout and told Matheny that he felt the club should appeal the call.
"He was surprised," Beltran said. "He was kind of looking at me [thinking] I was probably crazy. That's what I saw. We have nothing to lose, so give it a try."
The Cardinals did, and fill-in first-base umpire Dave Rackley punched Torres out.
After the game, Rackley told a pool reporter that he, too, saw dirt kick up as Torres made the turn around first. Crew chief Dale Scott said replays confirmed the observation.
"His foot went over [the base]. The toes hit the ground. The heel never did [hit the base]," Scott said. "And did you see where [Rackley] was? He was right there to make the call."
The Mets, of course, saw the play unfold differently, though neither Torres, manager Terry Collins nor first-base coach Tom Goodwin argued at length.
As Beltran noted: "If you touch the base right there and you get called out, myself, I would get thrown out of the game. He didn't really react to it, so I guess he didn't touch it."
Still, Torres, afterward, maintained that he did.
"He missed the call," Torres said. "What can I say?"
During his brief discussion with Collins, Rackley told him he wouldn't have made the call if he wasn't absolutely certain.
"I wouldn't," Rackely said, "make that up."
Motte followed the inning-altering call by closing out the team's 16th one-run victory this season. He had been called upon with one out in the eighth, shortly after Daniel Murphy's two-run homer off reliever Mitchell Boggs pulled the Mets to within one.
"We've talked about that -- the urgency," Matheny said. "At that point, we need to go with our closer. When we smell a win, we have to do whatever we can to put it away."
Motte ended up throwing 31 pitches in a game where the relievers appeared headed for a break.
Starter Joe Kelly provided the club with its longest start in 12 days. Challenged by pitching coach Derek Lilliquist to lean heavily on his sinker and gather ground-ball outs, Kelly found the game plan efficient and effective.
Through six innings, he had allowed only three hits on 69 pitches.
"That's what everyone else does on the staff," Kelly said. "That's kind of the way I pitched and how I came up through the system. I kind of shied away from it when I got here."
Kelly appeared on track to ease through the seventh, too, until three straight baserunners reached with two outs. Included in that string was a two-run homer by catcher Kelly Shoppach.
With pinch-hitter Justin Turner representing the potential tying run, Matheny turned to Edward Mujica, who effectively shut the inning down. In 16 appearances since being acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, Mujica has not allowed a run or an inherited runner to score.
It kept Kelly in line for his fifth win.
"I thought it was his best stuff of the season," Matheny said of the rookie right-hander, who was just recently plugged back into the rotation. "He did a real good job."
Kelly was supported by some early scoring, as for the first time in eight days, the Cardinals scored first.
Matt Carpenter's productive outs -- an RBI groundout in the first and a third-inning sacrifice fly -- in his first two plate appearances staked St. Louis to a 2-0 lead.
The third inning continued with three straight singles by Matt Holliday, Allen Craig and Yadier Molina. The last of the bunch drove home the Cardinals' third run off Mets starter Collin McHugh, who was making his second Major League appearance. McHugh's day ended after the fourth, which Skip Schumaker highlighted with his first home run of the season.
"I got to the point where I was thinking it wasn't going to happen this year," Schumaker joked of his personal power drought.
Craig's RBI single in the seventh padded the Cardinals' lead.
"I thought we did a very good job today of situational hitting," Matheny said. "We've talked about this stretch, and we have to do those things right. We have to do the little things of getting runners over and getting runners in."
This win, coupled with the Pirates' loss, gives the Cardinals a 2 1/2-game cushion over the National League Central's third-place team. The Dodgers, who play Monday night, are sandwiched between the two in the Wild Card standings, and trail St. Louis by one game.
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.