ST. LOUIS -- A combination of age, injuries and double play balls have made most of 2013 a statistically subpar season for St. Louis left fielder Matt Holliday.
But if the last 12 games are any indication, one of the Cardinals' most proven hitters might be getting on the type of roll that could carry this team into another successful postseason run.
Holliday's RBI single in the bottom of the 12th inning scored Matt Carpenter with the winning run as St. Louis outlasted Pittsburgh 6-5 on Thursday to pull within two games of the first place Pirates in the National League Central.
With Carpenter at third and Jon Jay at first after a walk and single, respectively, Holliday laced a 3-2 pitch from Bryan Morris (5-6) up the middle to end the 4-hour, 11-minute marathon. It gave the Cardinals (69-51) their first series win of the year over Pittsburgh (71-49).
"We have to win games," Holliday said. "It's the middle of August and we're heading into September. Winning this game could be very important for us."
Holliday also delivered a tie-breaking double to cap a five-run rally in the fifth for St. Louis, stretching his hitting streak to 12 games. He's 19-of-42 in that stretch and is batting .429 in August.
Holliday has raised his average about 30 points since returning from the disabled list on July 27 with a hamstring injury. The 33-year old Holliday has also been hampered by twin killings, leading the majors with 27.
But he hasn't let a litany of setbacks frustrate him.
"It's part of the phenomenon of hitting," he said. "I know I sound simple-minded about this sometime, but all I'm trying to do is prepare day by day to do the best job I can. If you start overanalyzing things ... I don't know. I just like to keep things simple."
Manager Mike Matheny saluted his team's resiliency in grabbing their second walk-off win of the series after entering with just one in its first 117 games.
"You could sense it on the bench," he said. "The guys weren't going to give in. They weren't going to stop pushing. They just wanted to see what happens. We just kept playing the game."
Kevin Siegrist (1-1) worked a 1-2-3 12th for his first major league win, allowing the Cardinals to end a mostly disappointing 10-game homestand at 4-6. They start a six-game road trip Friday in Chicago against the Cubs.
Neither starter was involved in the decision after looking good early. Pittsburgh's A.J. Burnett was knocked out after 4 1/3 innings, allowing eight hits and five runs. St. Louis' Lance Lynn permitted eight hits and four runs in 5 1/3 innings.
After four scoreless innings, both offenses exploded in the fifth. The Pirates grabbed a 4-0 lead on Andrew Lambo's first big league hit, an RBI double to the wall in center, Clint Barmes' two-run homer and a sacrifice fly by Neil Walker. Pittsburgh hit for the cycle in the inning.
But the Cardinals responded with five runs in the bottom of the fifth against Burnett, who had allowed just three runs in 24 previous innings against them.
Daniel Descalso stroked a two-run single and then scored on Carpenter's triple to the right field corner. Jay's RBI single evened the score and Holliday's double past diving center fielder Andrew McCutchen plated Jay with the go-ahead run.
"I got into good counts here and there but just wasn't able to put them away," Burnett said.
Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin evened the score in the top of the eighth with a leadoff homer off Trevor Rosenthal, his 11th home run of the year. But the Pirates ended their road trip at 1-5 and lost a series to the Cardinals for the first time this year.
"It's playoff atmosphere baseball," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "You're playing some very good ballclubs. This is going to sharpen us for what's in front of us."
St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina returned from the 15-day disabled list, going 0-for-5 with an eighth-inning strikeout that saw him throw his bat into the hole between third base and shortstop.
But the contributions of Holliday and Carpenter, who reached base five times and scored two runs to up his MLB-leading total to 90, overshadowed Molina's rustiness at the plate.
"When you're facing good pitchers, you're going to have to scratch and claw," Matheny said. "You've got to do whatever you can."
NOTES: Besides Molina, St. Louis also activated OF Shane Robinson (shoulder) from the 15-day disabled list and sent INF Jermaine Curtis down to Memphis (Triple-A). The team also put backup C Tony Cruz on the DL with a stress fracture to his left forearm. ... Pittsburgh heads home for a weekend series with Arizona before packing its bags again and starting a West Coast swing on Monday night in San Diego. The Pirates are in the middle of a stretch of 13 road games out of 16, including 10 against NL West clubs ... The Cardinals decided on their rotation for their weekend series in Chicago against the Cubs. RHP Jake Westbrook opens the series on Friday against RHP Jake Arrieta, and RHP Joe Kelly and RHP Adam Wainwright get the ball on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.