"Whenever you're in first place, it means a lot, especially at this time of year," starter Lance Lynn said. "When it's all said and done, we want to be in first place at the end of the month."
"We've been chasing those Brewers for a long time," infielder Daniel Descalso said.
Indeed, as the Brewers had at least a share of first for the last 150 days.
The Cardinals fell behind, 3-0, early, but again climbed on the shoulders of Matt Holliday, who drove home the team's first two runs off Pirates starter Gerrit Cole and later capped a three-run seventh with his 21st game-winning RBI of the season. He had that chance because of Lynn's ability to work around trouble and the defensive assists behind him.
Jon Jay saved the Pirates from turning a two-run first into a four-run frame with a running catch to end the 26-pitch inning. In the fourth, second baseman Pete Kozma's heads-up play to back up first baseman Matt Adams put him in position to throw out Josh Harrison as he tried to sneak home. Adams' sliding catch to make a foul-territory grab in the eighth later helped Carlos Martinez around trouble.
"When all is said and done, that play by Jay might have saved the game for them," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There were a number of good defensive plays throughout the game."
On the other end, Holliday remained locked in. After pulling the Cardinals to within one with his two-run double in the third, Holliday drove home his 12th run in three games to put the Cardinals ahead.
Cole, who had not allowed more than two earned runs in any of his previous five starts against St. Louis, took a 4-2 lead into the seventh, that advantage just padded by Andrew McCutchen with his 454-foot blast off Kevin Siegrist.
But Kozma singled with one out, and Kolten Wong, who hours earlier had been cleared of a concussion, came off the bench and tied the game with a two-run homer, his second long ball in as many days. In between, he had taken a scary tumble in the outfield that forced him out of Sunday's game and necessitated a variety of tests.
While manager Mike Matheny wasn't ready to start Wong again, he was rewarded with the team's first pinch-hit homer of the season by summoning him in the seventh. The Cardinals had been the only NL team without a pinch-hit blast this season.
"My neck was killing me today," Wong said. "But there comes certain points in time when you have to man up. Today was definitely one of those days where I told myself I just needed to man up and put a good at-bat together."
Jay followed with triple, his aggressiveness paying off when the ball rolled around in the left-field corner for some time. Then, after Oscar Taveras drew a walk, Holliday skipped a ball through to left field off former teammate John Axford. All five runs were charged to Cole.
"These guys are as good as any team in the National League," Cole said. "The toughest lineup, top to bottom, in terms of stubbornness, sticking to their approach, grinding out at-bats."
As for Holliday?
"The guy is unbelievable," Cole added. "He's probably the strongest human in the world -- you jam him, and he hits it to the warning track in right-center."
With a third straight game driving in at least three, Holliday becomes the first Cardinals outfielder since Enos Slaughter (1950) to achieve that feat.
"I would always say that somebody is going to pick up the slack, but it's hard to ignore what Matt's doing right now," Matheny said. "He's one of the leaders on our club by how he goes about it and how he just demands of himself in these kinds of situations."
With their first lead, Martinez kept the Pirates from roaring back by retiring three straight after allowing the first two batters he faced in the eighth to reach. Adams assisted with his catch. Trevor Rosenthal worked around an Adams error to follow with his 41st save.
Lynn did not factor in the decision, but his ability to keep the Pirates from pulling away early set up the late win. After allowing three runs and throwing 52 pitches through two innings, Lynn carried the game through the sixth without giving up another.
Lynn's only clean inning was his last one, as the Pirates stranded eight runners (five in scoring position) against him.
"It took me a minute to get in the groove," Lynn said. "Once I got there, it was still not where I wanted it, but it was enough to get by."