But reliever Trevor Rosenthal gave up the lead, spoiling rookie Michael Wacha's bid for his second big league win as the Cardinals dropped their fourth straight, losing 6-5 to the Cubs before a crowd of 43,908 at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals have lost 13 of their last 17 games and remained four games behind the Pirates in the National League Central.
"Sometimes we don't get it done," manager Mike Matheny said. "That's really what it comes down to. You can look at a lot of different things, it just comes down to the bottom line. We have had opportunities, we just got to do things a little different."
Rosenthal walked his first two batters, then struck out the next two as Darwin Barney stepped up to the plate with two on and two out. Barney cleared the bases with a game-tying double and pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro drove him home with the go-ahead RBI double as Rosenthal blew his third save of the season and first since April 8.
"I haven't seen that at-bat [against Barney on video]. I'm sure I'll watch it and see it again in my head many times tonight," Matheny said. "But Trevor's been so good for us in that situation and once again, he got himself into a hole, but when he has in the past, just like tonight, he finds his groove and gets back into it, gets through the eighth and we hand it over. Tonight it just didn't happen."
Matheny then went with rookie Michael Blazek in the ninth over closer Edward Mujica , who was warming up in the bullpen before Rosenthal surrendered the lead. Blazek gave up a leadoff double to Junior Lake, plunked Welington Castillo and allowed a run on Nate Schierholtz's RBI single, giving Chicago a two-run lead and spoiling a potential tie when Holliday knocked a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth, his second of the game.
The St. Louis skipper was curt when asked about his decision to go with the rookie over his All-Star closer.
"Down a run and just trying to figure out how to salvage something right there and save some of our arms," Matheny said, hoping to save Mujica should the game have gone into extra innings.
Holliday's solo blast in the ninth would be the extent of the Cardinals' comeback as Cubs closer Kevin Gregg retired David Freese and Jon Jay on grounders with pinch-hitter Matt Adams waiting on deck.
"We got our heads up," Adams said. "We know we're a good ballclub. We just got to keep fighting through this and we'll be able to come out on top."
Holliday's two long balls were his 14th and 15th of the season and first since July 9. It was also his first multi-home run game of the season and 18th of his career.
"Matt had a good night for us," Matheny said. "We needed somebody to step up. We got some offense going early, hit the ball hard and he's been swinging it much better lately."
Wacha, beginning his second big league stint, struggled with efficiency, exiting after five innings with 99 pitches, but still managed to limit Chicago to two earned runs on five hits and three walks, while fanning four.
"Once you start walking people, pitch count starts rising and you're not able to get deep into the game," Wacha said. "I was only able to get through five, which I wasn't very happy about."
Chicago got to Wacha early as Castillo knocked a solo shot 389 feet into the Chicago bullpen for an early 1-0 lead in the second. Wacha would find himself in trouble again in the next frame, walking three batters to load the bases, but got out of it by retiring Schierholtz with a popup to third.
The Cubs tacked on another in the fifth, cutting the Cardinals' lead to one with back-to-back singles and a sacrifice fly from Castillo that scored Junior Lake.
"First couple innings, arm felt good," Wacha said. "I was able to keep the ball down with my pitches. Later on, I was trying to create too much with my offspeed pitches and then I guess I was just leaving everything up."
Seth Maness gave up a single to start the sixth, but immediately erased the mistake by inducing his National League-best 13th double play, which is the most by a Cardinals reliever since Julian Tavarez had 14 in 2005.
The Cardinals plated a run off Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva on consecutive doubles from Matt Carpenter and Beltran in the sixth. Villanueva tossed six innings, giving up four runs on seven hits -- one homer -- and one walk. He struck out four batters.
The loss put the Cubs up 2-0 in the three-game series, marking the first time Chicago has won a series in St. Louis since September 2010.
"There's something about playing the Cardinals," Barney said. "it's not good to say but you get up more for games like this. It's just one of those things where they're in the hunt and need to win some ballgames, and we're playing spoilers once again. Hopefully we can keep doing it. That's a good club with an offense that's on the verge of breaking out again. Let's take them while we can."