DENVER (AP) - Juan Nicasio didn't make it out of the third inning and the formula for his latest brief outing was familiar - high pitch counts and poor location.
The Rockies' right-hander had thrown 71 pitches by the time he left with two outs in what proved to be an eight-run third inning in Colorado's 11-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on Tuesday night.
``He's grinding to the finish line here,' Colorado manager Walt Weiss said.
Matt Holliday had four hits, including a two-run homer, to help the St. Louis Cardinals take over sole possession of the NL Central by roughing up Nicasio in the victory.
Nicasio (8-8), who didn't make it through the fifth inning six times in his previous 28 starts, struggled with his command, lasting just 2 2-3 innings and allowing eight runs to tie a career high. The eight runs matched a July 30 start in Atlanta in which he was tagged for 10 hits in four innings.
``The problem is I've had to throw my fastball more because I'm behind in the count,' Nicasio said. ``You see what happens when you get behind in the count.'
Michael Cuddyer finished 2 for 3 with a walk and an RBI for the Rockies to raise his average to .331, tops in the NL.
``He's a warrior,' Weiss said.
Colorado had another issue.
Joe Kelly (9-4) baffled the Rockies, allowing three hits over five sharp innings before turning a 10-0 lead over to the bullpen. The hard-throwing right-hander has been one of the team's most consistent pitchers since becoming a permanent member of the rotation in July.
``He's got a good arm like a lot of the guys over there,' Weiss said. ``He has a live arm and a good slider.'
The Cardinals entered the night tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who lost 5-2 at home to San Diego. St. Louis reduced its magic number for clinching a playoff spot to five with 11 games remaining.
Holliday led an 18-hit attack by the Cardinals, who had seven players with at least two hits. Holliday finished 4 for 4 with a walk, double and two-run homer against his former team. He drove in three runs and scored twice.
The Cardinals ran away with the game in the third when they sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six times. Daniel Descalso had a two-run triple in the decisive inning, while Holliday added a double and an RBI single.
Kelly hardly seemed intimidated in his first start at Coors Field. He didn't allow a base runner past second until the fourth inning. He wiggled out of that jam when first baseman Matt Adams corralled Josh Rutledge's liner.
Once Kelly was out of the game, the Rockies went to work and scored four runs off reliever Carlos Martinez in the seventh. But the bullpen shut down the Rockies from there, with Kevin Siegrist striking out pinch-hitter Jordan Pacheco to end the game.
Leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter was frequently on base for the Cardinals, with three hits and a hit-by-pitch. He leads the league in hits (187), doubles (51) and multi-hit games (60).
Yadier Molina gave the Cardinals a lead in the first inning with a two-out single to center.
Todd Helton nearly tied the game in the bottom half of the first, but Holliday made a leaping catch against the fence in left field.
The 40-year-old Helton announced last weekend his decision to retire after his 17th season with the Rockies. He will leave as the franchise's leader in virtually every offensive category.
NOTES: The Cardinals send Adam Wainwright (16-9) to the mound on Wednesday, while the Rockies counter with RHP Tyler Chatwood (7-4). ... Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado missed the game after aggravating his right thumb on Monday. ``He may be down for a few days,' Weiss said. ``His thumb is real tender.' ... Rockies C Yorvit Torrealba replaced Wilin Rosario (strained right calf) after the second inning. ... . Colorado has been shut out 12 times.
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