MILWAUKEE -- As if an already charged series between the National League Central's top two teams needed another dose of intrigue, the Cardinals and Brewers supplied it on Tuesday night.

Two superstars were left nursing bruises or worse after an 8-7 Cardinals win that was decided in the 11th inning but may have climaxed in the seventh. Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols was struck in the hand by one pitch and Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun in the back with another, a "message," according to St. Louis manager Tony La Russa, that if you are going to pitch Pujols inside, you'd better be careful.

"We did not hit Braun on purpose," La Russa said. "We threw two balls in there real good just to send a message."

Message received, said the Brewers.

"We've got a baseball game to win, and we don't really have time for the suspense," said Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder, who has been part of a slew of tense Cardinals-Brewers games over the years. "I think we're past that as a team. It happens and you move on, go try and win a ballgame.

"We're here to win, man. All that fighting stuff, that's for the birds."

The fight began in the top of the seventh inning, when Brewers reliever Takashi Saito -- who was already in a jam -- struck Pujols in the left hand to load the bases. This raised La Russa's ire because the Brewers have been pitching Pujols inside all season, including reliever LaTroy Hawkins on Monday night, and because Pujols spent time on the disabled list this season with a broken bone in his left wrist.

Pujols bent over in pain along the first-base line but ultimately stayed in the game. He may not be available for Wednesday's series finale, La Russa said.

"I can't tell you what they tried to do," Pujols said. "But I'm telling you, if you need to come inside, you'd better keep the ball low. That's all I have to say."

The Cardinals tied the game at 7 in that inning before exacting their revenge. Reliever Jason Motte threw ball one away to Braun before coming way inside with ball two. It missed, but the next pitch did not, drilling Braun in the middle of his back.

Braun had words for Motte and both La Russa and Brewers manager Ron Roenicke stepped onto the field before crew chief Gary Darling sent them back. No punches were thrown and no ejections issued, but both dugouts were warned.

"That's clearly intentional. That's ridiculous," said Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. "There's no way that we were trying to hit Pujols on purpose. Are you kidding me? In that situation? If we wanted to put him on base, we would have walked him. We were trying to pitch him inside and get a ground ball to third base, just like they did to me when I came up [in the bottom of the inning] with the bases loaded."

But the Cardinals did not believe that the Brewers struck Pujols on purpose, La Russa said.

"The ball that they tried to throw on Pujols was aimed right where they aimed it," La Russa said. "Did they try to hit him? No. But there's a small window. They did it [Monday] and the ball trickled off his bat. You know how close that is to your face and your hand?

"So 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, and it's a very dangerous pitch and we almost paid a hell of a price. So I don't want to hear about it."

Had Braun been forced to duck out of the way, the matter would have been over, La Russa said.

Lucroy called the idea that someone needed to pay the price for Pujols getting hit, "stupid."

"I don't think anyone needs to pay for that," Lucroy said. "Look at the situation. If they were beating us by a lot, or we were beating them by a lot, and that happens, OK, maybe we did it on purpose. ... Come on. We were trying to get a ground ball. It's unbelievable."

Considering it took Motte two inside pitches to make his point, "he definitely should have been thrown out," Lucroy argued. "We all thought that."

The plunking nearly cost the Cardinals a higher price. The Brewers loaded the bases with nobody out on a walk and an infield hit before Cardinals reliever Lance Lynn escaped with the tie intact.

The teams will play the rubber match of the series on Wednesday at 1:10 p.m. CT.