MILWAUKEE • The Cardinals were able to settle a score and even a series all in the same game.
It just took a little longer to do the latter.
Lance Berkman's flare to left field scored Matt Holliday from second base in the 11th inning to end an exhilarating, exhausting and, in some ways, still unfinished 8-7 victory late Tuesday night at Miller Park. Holliday set up the winning run by beating a throw to first for an infield single and then stealing second, his first stolen base of the season. Berkman looped a two-strike, two-out RBI single off Brewers reliever Marco Estrada for the third and final lead change of a feisty evening.
The 4-hour, 28-minute game featured an exchange of hit batters, a game-saving catch by Rafael Furcal, Yadier Molina's ejection and potential suspension for screaming at the umpire, Jaime Garcia's first major-league homer, and ramifications that will echo beyond the most compelling game of the season so far.
"It was one of the hardest earned wins," Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. "It was a very competitive game from beginning to end. A lot of twist and turns and for us to hang in there like that ... that's one of the better ones because we had to work so hard to get it."
Said Holliday: "It was a long, hot, hard-fought game."
By outlasting the Brewers, the Cardinals ended first-place Milwaukee's winning streak at seven games and moved to 2 ½ games back in division standings. The two teams play the finale of the three-game series this afternoon at Miller.
There's no time or room for a cessation of hostilities.
While the game was determined by Berkman's single, a Cardinals' bullpen that pitched six shutout innings, and a litany of missed chances on both sides, it will be remembered for two bruises.
In the seventh inning, Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was hit on the left hand by Takashi Saito when his fastball veered up and in. On Monday, Pujols was nearly nicked by a similar pitch, and that area in on his hands has been a regularly target for Milwaukee pitchers. Milwaukee's Ryan Braun, an All-Star and the best righthanded hitter on the other side of the field, led off the next inning, and came up with crosshairs. Cardinals reliever Jason Motte fired a fastball inside that Braun evaded. Home plate umpire Rob Drake did not issue a warning after that pitch, so Motte got another chance. La Russa insisted that the attempt to hit Braun was not "intentional." Apparently, it was so unintentional that they tried again after missing.
Motte's second fastball got Braun on the back, around his lower ribs.
That's when Drake delivered warnings to both dugouts.
Motte was not ejected.
"You don't think they were trying to throw the ball intentionally up and in?" La Russa challenged a reporter on the pitch to Pujols. "We weren't trying to hit Braun either. We did not hit Braun on purpose. We threw two balls in there real good just to send a message. If he ducks them, it's all over and we don't hit him. ... I don't want to hear about our tactics vs. what they did. They did not make an intentional hit, but they tried to throw the ball up and in. It's a very dangerous pitch, and we almost paid a hell of a price."
That price would have been an injury to Pujols.
But one team's "message" is another team's payback.
Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy called the Cardinals' retaliation "clearly intentional" and "ridiculous." First baseman Prince Fielder, who has felt the sting of previous pitches in a similar exchange with the Cardinals several years ago, was more matter-of-fact.
"All that fighting stuff is for the birds," Fielder told reporters in the Brewers' clubhouse. "We got the point. We hit Albert. They hit Braunie. Cool. Move on."
At issue for La Russa and Pujols was not that they hit the first baseman, but where the Brewers are testing him. La Russa has long taken issue with pitches that stray up and toward the hands or face. Pujols had an X-ray taken of his hand - the hand on the same side as the broken wrist that put him on the disabled list in June - and no fractures were discovered.
"It's not like that was the first ball that had been thrown up and in," Berkman said. "That one just happened to hit Albert. It's certainly a situation that you don't want to escalate any further than it needs to. Those things have a way of working out on the field. As far as we're concerned it's answered. That wasn't the initial salvo. That was the ending, hopefully.
"If not, then not."
Add this to the swelling list of overheated rivalries the Cardinals have crowding the stovetop. As they've bobbed in and out of the lead in the division, the Cardinals have not discriminated when it comes to chafing opponents.
"There seems to be a running theme here," said Berkman, a newcomer to the feuds. "Because it's Cardinals-Brewers, Cardinals-Reds, Cardinals-Astros, Cardinals-Cubs. The Cardinals seem to be the common thread in all of these things. I think that kind of emotion and energy is helpful."
The gambit of sending a message to Braun via his ribs was a dangerous one with a 7-7 score. Rookie Lance Lynn kept the Cardinals from getting bruised.
Braun represented the go-ahead run as he moved around the bases. Replacing Motte, lefty Marc Rzepczynski walked Fielder on four pitches to push Braun into scoring position. In came Lynn, and he allowed an infield single to Casey McGehee. That loaded the bases with no outs. A fly ball got the first one, a groundball became a force out at home for the second one, and then Lynn struck out pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay to keep the Cardinals retaliation from costing the game.
The Cardinals had similar chances late in the game to retake the lead. Saito hit Pujols and loaded the bases with no out in the seventh, but the Cardinals managed only to tie the game on a double play groundout. In the eighth, new Brewers reliever Francisco Rodriguez struck out Ryan Theriot with the bases loaded to end that inning and spoil Molina's leadoff double.
In the 10th, Molina led off another inning. He was called out on a pitch he felt was out of the strike zone.
Molina erupted on home plate umpire Drake and was ejected. Molina made contact with the umpire, and Drake was seen wiping spittle off his face. (Read more about the incident here.)
Through Milwaukee's media relations department, crew chief Gary Darling declined comment on Molina's ejection or the exchange of hit batsmen.
The Cardinals built an early 6-3 lead on homers by Holliday and Garcia. In the fourth inning, the Cardinals lefty lofted a full-count changeup from Milwaukee starter Shaun Marcum and landed it in the second deck of the right-field seats. The homer was Garcia's first of his major-league career and only his second extra-base hit in 114 plate appearances. It produced a three-run lead that his pitching was unable to protect.
The Brewers answered with four runs in the bottom of the fifth. All four runs were unearned because of a tough error pinned on Skip Schumaker, but not all four runs were undeserved. Garcia left a meek slider over the plate that Milwaukee shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt hammered for a three-run homer that regained the lead for Milwaukee. Marcum allowed six runs but left the game to his bullpen with the lead and a chance to beat Garcia to an 11th win.
The bullpens would decide it, with a cameo from Furcal.
The Cardinals new shortstop darted into shallow left field to snare a potential game-winning single by Felipe Lopez. Furcal caught the Lopez's loop on the backhand with his back to home plate. Kyle McClellan (8-6) got the victory for his 1 1/3 shutout innings. Veteran Octavio Dotel made his fifth appearance in six days since joining the club via trade with Toronto, and he scored his first save as a Cardinal by striking out the potential winning run to end the game.
But end the game only.
The gamesmanship will continue.
"The game was full of so many players and pitchers on both sides competing their butts off," La Russa said. "It was a pleasure to be a part of it. That little nonsense should not take away from the game."