ST. LOUIS -- Joe Kelly walked a tightrope throughout his six innings Tuesday night.
However, the St. Louis starter emerged almost unscathed from his stressful outing, picking up his sixth straight win as the Cardinals expanded their lead in the National League Central with a 6-1 decision over the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium.
Kelly (6-3) gave up one run on eight hits and three walks while striking out just one. He pitched out of numerous jams, stranding eight Reds during his stint. Three relievers wrapped up the victory with three perfect innings.
Mat Latos (13-5) lost for just the second time since the All-Star break, yielding nine hits and four runs over six-plus innings. It was Cincinnati's 10th loss in 14 games against St. Louis this year and marked its 25th series loss in its last 30 series under the Gateway Arch, dating back to 2003.
The Cardinals (78-54) moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a 7-6 loser to the Milwaukee Brewers, and 4 1/2 games in front of the Reds (74-59).
St. Louis led 2-1 through five innings, but the Cardinals pulled away by scoring in their last three at-bats. Allen Craig knocked in Carlos Beltran with a double in the sixth for his 96th RBI of the year, and Matt Carpenter made it 4-1 in the seventh with a sacrifice fly.
David Freese's RBI single and Daniel Descalso's fielder's choice chopper in the eighth wrapped up the scoring.
St. Louis grabbed the lead when Carpenter, Beltran and Matt Holliday stroked consecutive singles in the bottom of the first. Holliday collected an RBI for the seventh straight game, while Carpenter scored his big-league-high 100th run.
An error by right fielder Jay Bruce allowed Beltran to move to third on Holliday's single. That led directly to a second run on Craig's 1-6-3 double play ball.
Cincinnati drew within 2-1 in the fifth when Shin-soo Choo cracked the 100th homer of his career to lead off the inning. However, the Reds accomplished nothing else despite having plenty of chances.
They had eight hits and three walks in the first five innings but went 1-for-6 with men in scoring position. A two-out single by Latos with runners at first and second in the fourth turned into an inning-ending out when Zack Cozart ran up Bruce's back after Bruce was held at third. Cozart was tagged out in the ensuing rundown.
NOTES: St. Louis recalled RHP Fernando Salas from Triple-A Memphis and optioned LHP Tyler Lyons, the starting pitcher Monday night, back to Memphis. The Cardinals won't need a fifth starter again until Sept. 3, when they're in Cincinnati ... Bruce is one of only 15 players in major league history to belt at least 20 homers in each of his first six seasons. When Bruce cracked his 25th in the eighth inning Monday night, it marked the fourth straight year he'd reached 25.