Holliday homered off Aaron Heilman leading off the bottom of the ninth inning for a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Friday that reduced the Cardinals' magic number for clinching the NL Central to six.
The Cardinals had lost five of six, ensuring they wouldn't be able to celebrate during a nine-game homestand that ends Sunday.
The team's slump and his personal struggles were no big deal for Holliday even if he had failed in the ninth. He was 6 for 29 overall and had not appeared to be seeing the ball well while going 1 for 9 the previous two games against the Florida Marlins.
"At some point you figure we were going to lose a few," Holliday said. "I can't believe people expected us to win four out of five games the entire last two months."
Holliday's liner off a 3-1 pitch from Heilman (3-4) landed in the Cardinals' bullpen beyond the right field wall for 24th homer this season, his third career game-winning homer and second this year. The Cardinals are 9-5 against the second-place Cubs, clinching the season series for the first time since 2004.
Heilman was happy with the location on a fastball away. If not the result.
"Evidently it's never a good pitch when it goes over the fence," Heilman said. "It's a tough way to lose."
Holliday has 13 homers and 49 RBIs in 50 games with the Cardinals. He had 11 homers, 54 RBIs and hit .286 in 93 games with Oakland.
Manager Tony La Russa was not surprised when Holliday came through.
"He just hit it absolutely perfect, as pure as you can hit it," he said. "If you hit great all the time, you hit .400 or .500, and nobody does that."
Ted Lilly allowed two runs in 7 2/3 innings for Chicago, his seventh straight strong start since coming off the disabled list from a shoulder injury. He's 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA over that stretch and his NL-high 44 wins the last three seasons is one more than Cardinals 18-game winner Adam Wainwright, who pitches Sunday in the series finale.
Ryan Franklin (3-3) struck out two and picked off Ryan Theriot, his first since August of 2007, to end the ninth. Kyle McClellan struck out four in the seventh and eighth for St. Louis, allowing only a walk.
With one out in the first John Smoltz gave up consecutive doubles by Kosuke Fukudome, Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez for a 2-0 lead. Lee's 64 RBIs since July 1 leads the majors and Ramirez has 21 RBIs in 21 games.
"We had swung the bats good the last few games at home and I said 'Well, we might add five or six," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said. "Their pitching staff settled down and did a nice job."
Smoltz, pitching on 10 days' rest after a bout of shoulder tendinitis, allowed only three singles in his last five innings to keep it close. He walked three, one intentionally, after a 28-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in his first four outings with St. Louis.
Smoltz is 15-5 for his career against the Cubs, but has not beaten them since April 5, 1997. He said he was too pumped up at the start of the game.
"Very rarely do I get that anxious," Smoltz said. "With the crowd and the game, sometimes you get a little out of whack."
Lilly retired the first nine hitters in order and had allowed one hit before the fifth when DeRosa hit an RBI triple and scored on Brendan Ryan's sacrifice fly to tie it. DeRosa had been 3 for 22 in the first six games of a nine-game homestand, and 2 for 11 against Lilly.
Attendance of 45,959 was the Cardinals' 30th sellout.
After this series, the Cubs won't play their biggest rival in St. Louis until a three-game series Aug. 13-15, 2010. ... Smoltz took the turn of Kyle Lohse, still battling mechanical issues from a forearm injury in late May. Lohse threw a bullpen session and is on track to start early next week in Houston. ... Milton Bradley, removed from Thursday's game with left knee inflammation, was not in the Cubs' lineup. Piniella said Bradley could play Saturday night. ... Cubs reliever Angel Guzman, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 8 because of a triceps injury, halted a bullpen session after 12 pitches.