ST. LOUIS -- Matt Holliday was hit by a ball three times while he was in the batter's box. He was sore from head to toe.
Of course, he did have a great big smile on his face after another important victory for St. Louis.
St. Louis won for the sixth time in seven games, including the first two games of its three-game series against third-place Cincinnati. The NL Central-leading Cardinals moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Pittsburgh, which lost to Milwaukee, and 4 1/2 games up on the Reds, who won the division last year.
Kelly (6-3) scattered eight hits and allowed one run in six innings. He also walked three but managed to improve to 6-0 since rejoining the starting rotation July 6.
Kelly, 25, has won each of his past three starts and five of his past six overall. He has a 2.08 ERA in 34 2/3 innings this month.
"I made pitches when I had to and I enjoyed that," Kelly said. "My arm felt good. They got guys in scoring position a couple times; I just tried to bear down and leave those guys out there."
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny is impressed with Kelly's recent run.
"Joe did a good job; he had great life again," Matheny said. "He just keeps making good starts for us."
Shin-Soo Choo homered for the Reds, who lost for the fourth time in five games. Cincinnati's last 13 batters went down in order in its third consecutive loss to St. Louis, making it 4-10 against the Cardinals this year.
The hot-hitting Holliday had a rough game at the plate, at least physically. He fouled two separate pitches off his foot and toe in different at-bats. He also was plunked on the shoulder by a pitch from Alfredo Simon in the eighth.
The last blow signaled the end of his day.
But he went 2-for-3, including an RBI single against Mat Latos in St. Louis' two-run first. He is batting .346 with three homers and 10 RBIs over his past seven games.
Holliday's RBI string is tied for the second-longest in the majors this season. Arizona slugger Paul Goldschmidt had an eight-game RBI run in early June.
Latos (13-5) gave up four runs and nine hits over six-plus innings. He has dropped two of his past three starts.
The Cardinals went 4-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
"That's the type of team that we are," Holliday said.
Holliday admitted he was sore after the rough night. He even joked he would soon be wearing a catcher's shin guards to the plate to prevent any further damage.
The Cardinals needed just 14 pitches to take a 2-0 lead. Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran began the first with back-to-back singles. Holliday then singled in Carpenter, who scored his major league-leading 100th run. Beltran scored when Allen Craig bounced into a double play.
Choo hit a leadoff drive in the fifth for his 100th career homer, but the Cardinals answered with single runs in the sixth and seventh and scored twice in the eighth.
Craig pushed the lead to 3-1 with a run-scoring double in the sixth, giving him 96 RBIs on the year. Carpenter brought in Jon Jay with a sacrifice fly in the seventh.
"A loss is a loss. You've just got to play better baseball," Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker said. "There are a few things we've still got to learn about playing winning baseball."
Baker was particularly upset with a baserunning error by Zack Cozart in the fourth inning. Cozart and Jay Bruce ended up on third base at the same time after Bruce was held while rounding third on a hit by Latos. The play ended the inning.
Had Cozart stopped at second and noticed Bruce was being held up, the Reds would have had the bases loaded for Choo.
"It's my (mistake) definitely," Cozart said. "It was a bad play. You have to keep your head up. When I got to third, I was surprised Jay was even there. That was a big part of the game."
Baker was not in a forgiving mood.
"Sometimes guys have got to be held accountable for their actions," he said. "They're all big boys, they're all getting paid here."
Adam Wainwright (15-7, 2.58 ERA) faces Homer Bailey (8-10, 3.71) in the finale of the three-game series Wednesday. Bailey is 0-5 with a 6.90 ERA in seven career starts at Busch Stadium. ... St. Louis INF Pete Kozma is mired in a 0-for-23 slump. ... The Cardinals are 34-22 against NL Central opponents this season with 22 divisional games remaining. ... The Reds have spent the past 127 days in second, third or fourth place. ... Latos had two hits for his second multihit game of the season. ...The Cardinals have doubled in a season-high 18 consecutive games.