ST. LOUIS -- Behind a spark from the bottom of the batting order, a late-inning burst of power and assistance from an active infield, the Cardinals squashed the Dodgers' string of 15 straight road wins with a 5-1 victory on Tuesday night.
With 41,770 fans at Busch Stadium for the second game of the four-game series, the Cardinals matched their season high with four double plays turned. The twin killings backed Joe Kelly as he pitched into the sixth and then preserved a win for the newest member of the rotation.
The Cardinals needed the win to keep pace with the Pirates, who still hold a two-game division lead.
"He's the best lefty in the game," Carlos Beltran said of Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. "To be able to go out there and win against him is always encouraging. We've been scuffling, so it's good to even the series."
Eighth-inning homers by Beltran and Matt Adams cushioned what was a one-run lead, though it was the maneuvering that the Cardinals' pitching staff did with runners on base earlier in the night that set the foundation.
The Dodgers' leadoff hitter reached base in four of the six innings Kelly started. In the first and fourth, Kelly answered with immediate double plays. In between, a double play erased a one-out walk in the third.
"Especially with guys on, I tried to go sinkers down," Kelly said. "If they made contact, most of the time it will be on the ground."
No double play would be more critical, though, than the one turned behind reliever Seth Maness in the sixth. After helping the Cardinals tack on two against Kershaw in the previous inning, Kelly started the sixth in trouble. A leadoff double and RBI single from Adrian Gonzalez shaved the deficit to one. Two more singles loaded the bases.
That brought manager Mike Matheny out of the dugout and Maness in from the bullpen. Already the league's relief leader in double plays induced, Maness upped his season total to a dozen with A.J. Ellis' inning-ending one.
"He's got a knack for it and continues to come up big in big situations," Matheny said. "His track record shows he's always been a strike-thrower. Now double plays, did we know that's what we were getting? No. But he's just been able to pull that off for us."
Those 12 double plays have come in just 39 1/3 innings for Maness, who has allowed only four of 32 inherited runners to score.
"A lot of the credit goes to the defense making the plays behind me," Maness said. "They're not easy double plays to roll, but in big-time situations, they're rolling it and making it look easy."
Maness' reputation is getting around. In a recent conversation with Matheny, Beltran referred to the rookie reliever as "the ground-ball guy." And added Kelly: "If he doesn't get a double play, our team is like, 'What just happened?'"
It marked the fourth time this season that the Cardinals have turned four double plays. The club's season total of 134 is tops in the Majors.
Three other Cardinals relievers held the lead, which was padded with a three-run eighth. Beltran, who had last homered on June 30, went deep with a solo shot to give him the 11th 20-homer season of his career. With his third pinch-hit homer of the season, Adams tacked on two more insurance runs.
An inning earlier, catcher Tony Cruz had helped snuff out a potential game-tying rally by throwing out Juan Uribe as he tried to advance to third on a sacrifice bunt with no outs.
All of the Cardinals' meaningful activity against Kershaw came within a four-batter span in the fifth. Locked in a scoreless duel with Kelly, Kershaw flinched by allowing a one-out double to Jon Jay. Cruz followed with a run-scoring single up the middle. The RBI was Cruz's sixth in six starts since Yadier Molina was placed on the disabled list. He has seven hits in that same stretch.
"He's not trying to step up and be a version of Yadier Molina," Matheny said. "He's just doing his thing, and he's doing a nice job of it."
Pete Kozma's double -- his third in five career at-bats against Kershaw -- moved Cruz to third. And with Cruz taking an aggressive lead and running on contact, Kelly's subsequent groundout to second was enough to have him score without a play.
"I didn't want to strike out there," Kelly said. "I just wanted to put something in play. Luckily I got the barrel on a curveball just to put it in play and Cruz got a good jump."
Kershaw, who pitched one more inning, has lost both of his starts against the Cardinals this year. His ERA is still an NL-best 1.91.
"It's just one of those nights [where] they were doing what they've been doing all year," Kershaw said. "[They] got some big hits with runners in scoring position, I left some pitches up, and they made me pay."
Kelly furthered his case for long-term inclusion in the rotation with another strong start. Before giving up a sixth-inning run, he extended his scoreless innings streak to 20. It stands as the longest by a St. Louis pitcher this season. Kelly has given up just two runs over his last four starts (23 innings), seemingly ending any debate about who fits best in the fifth rotation spot.
The Cardinals have now won four of Kelly's last five starts.
"[The Dodgers] are a really good team, obviously," Kelly said. "Kershaw is a stud. Everyone knows that. But to have a good all-around win like that is awesome. You have to give huge credit to Maness and what the bullpen has been doing. They've been lights out."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.