ST. LOUIS — Royals reliever Greg Holland knew he was in trouble Saturday night when his pitch in the eighth inning to St. Louis slugger Matt Holliday "leaked" back over the plate.
"I knew it was a bad pitch before he hit it," Holland said. "And then when he hit it, I knew it was a really bad pitch."
Holland hammered the ball 422 feet to center field for as no-doubt, two-run homer that lifted the Cardinals to a 5-4 victory over the Royals in the middle game of the I-70 Series weekend at Busch Stadium.
"Everybody in their bullpen throws 95 or 96 (mph)," Holliday said, "so you better be ready for the fastball. So you just try to see one on the first pitch, see what it looks like, and then go from there."
Holliday's homer, on an 0-1 pitch, enabled the Cardinals to halt a seven-game skid and overcome a series of sparkling defensive plays by the Royals.
"I tried to get the ball in," Holland said, "and it leaked back over the plate. And it was up. Boom. So, bad combination."
The homer came after the Cardinals avoided double play by starting Colby Rasmus from first base on Holland's first pitch to Albert Pujols after relieving Tim Collins.
Pujols hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Alcides Escobar, but Rasmus beat the throw to second. Second baseman Chris Getz threw on to first to retire Pujols.
Holliday followed with his homer, which turned into a game-winner when Fernando Salas set down the Royals in the ninth for his 12th save. Jason Motte (3-1) got the victory after getting the final two outs in the eighth.
Holland (1-1) was the loser. He had allowed just one earned run in 14 1/3 previous innings over 10 appearances following his May 19 recall from Triple-A Omaha.
"He's been lights out," manager Ned Yost said, "and he was lights out tonight with the exception of one pitch. He didn't execute a pitch to Holliday... I mean, he threw it right down the middle. But he's been great for us."
Holliday's homer snatched a victory away from Royals starter Vin Mazzaro and allowed Cardinals starter Jake Westbrook to escape with a no-decision.
The three-game series concludes this afternoon. The Cardinals hold a 3-2 edge in the season series after winning two of three last month at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals took a 4-3 lead with two outs in the seventh on Alex Gordon's tie-breaking homer to right against Westbrook. That followed a series of four successive sparkling defensive plays in the fifth and sixth.
* Escobar cut down Ryan Theriot at the plate for the final out in the fifth when Theriot tried to score from first on Holliday's double into the left-center gap. Escobar took the relay from Melky Cabrera and threw a dart to catcher Matt Treanor.
* Cabrera opened the sixth by stealing a homer from Lance Berkman on a leaping catch at the center-field wall.
* Third baseman Mike Moustakas made a diving stop on Yadier Molina's bid for extra bases on a sharp grounder up the line. Moustakas turned it into the second out.
* First baseman Eric Hosmer capped the string with a diving stop on Daniel Descalso's grounder up the line. Hosmer beat Descalso to the base for the inning's final out.
"That's a sign of how much our defense has improved," Yost said. "I'm sitting there thinking, 'If we had the team we had on the field last year, they'd probably have given up nine runs.'
"This club is much more athletic and much more proficient at catching the ball and throwing the ball."
Mazzaro limited the Cardinals to three runs despite allowing the leadoff hitter to reach safely in four of his six innings. Collins worked a one-two-three seventh before departing after Rasmus opened the eighth with a single to right.
Westbrook threw 121 pitches in seven innings and gave up four runs, eight hits and two homers: Gordon's tie-breaking bomb, and Treanor's game-tying drive in the fourth that erased the Cardinals' 3-2 lead.
The Royals pulled even on Treanor's one-out homer in the fourth. The 393-foot drive on a full-count pitch was his first homer in 105 at-bats dating to April 15 against Seattle's Eric Bedard.