Jeff Karstens clutched his left elbow, draped thick in bandages and bruised to the point it was "starting to tingle," as he put it.
But he managed a small smile as he spoke.
And that, perhaps, best told the tale of the Pirates' manic 8-5 victory against Milwaukee last night before 11,741 at PNC Park, one that broke a 17-game losing streak to the Brewers, and one in which the benches cleared after Karstens was hit by a pitch in a blatant bid for retribution for hitting Ryan Braun nearly three months ago.
"This felt good," Karstens said. "I'm a little sore right now, but this felt good."
Home runs by Delwyn Young and Garrett Jones contributed to the Pirates' first success against Milwaukee since May 22, 2008, but Karstens was the unquestioned star: First, he pitched three no-hit innings in continuing a stretch of fine long relief. Then, he stepped into the batter's box for the bottom of the eighth.
Mayhem soon ensued.
Reliever Chris Smith's first pitch, an 86-mph fastball, struck Karstens in the elbow. Karstens immediately flicked his bat and started toward the mound before catcher Jason Kendall shouted and caught his attention.
• Game: Pirates vs. Milwaukee Brewers, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Virgil Vasquez (1-3, 6.52) vs. RHP Braden Looper (8-4, 4.95).
• Key matchup: Vasquez goes from getting beaten up by the National League's best lineup -- five runs in 1 1/3 innings July 12 in Philadelphia -- to facing another of the league's best. He has given up 22 hits and 11 walks in 19 1/3 innings.
• Of note: Opponents bat .239 against the Pirates' bullpen.
The two exchanged words, and the bullpens and benches immediately emptied. There were no fisticuffs and there was little pushing and shoving, as evidenced by no one getting ejected. But there was plenty of yelling and finger-pointing, mostly between Pirates pitching coach Joe Kerrigan and Kendall, the latter needing to be restrained by teammate Prince Fielder.
What was spoken initially between Karstens and Kendall?
"He told me to pick one," Karstens said.
"I told him to go to first base or go get the pitcher, one or the other," Kendall said. "And I was fine until Dave Kerwin started yelling at me. I can take a lot, but when Dave Kerwin started yelling at me..."
Kendall was referring to Kerrigan but, even upon being corrected, continued calling him by the fictitious name.
"Yeah, Dave Kerwin, whatever his name is."
Kendall was asked if he knew why Kerrigan was so upset.
"Dave Kerwin? I have no idea."
Kerrigan was not immediately available for comment.
Smith denied intent, answering simply, "No," when asked if he threw at Karstens.
He backed Kendall's stance that Karstens should have gone either to the mound or to first.
"It just makes a big mess if you just if you stand and yell," Smith said. "You either go or you don't go. That's what they say."
Another thing those in baseball say, according to the many players fuming in the Pirates' clubhouse, is that retribution comes swiftly or not at all.
Karstens hit Braun one at-bat after a home run April 27 at Miller Park and prompted a torrent of venom from Braun the next 48 hours, during which he, among other headline-grabbing comments, warned Bud Selig, Major League Baseball's commissioner, to pay attention to future meetings between the Brewers and Pirates because of possible retribution.
"Yeah, I had an idea they'd throw at me," Karstens said last night. "But they had a chance to hit me that day in Milwaukee and didn't take it. Then, they hit a few of our guys the next day."
The Brewers hit three Pirates April 28, with no response from the Pirates other than to insist that Karstens did not hit Braun intentionally and that they were moving on.
And, as Karstens noted, he batted right after hitting Braun and struck out without so much as a brushback.
The latter was Pirates manager John Russell's main beef last night.
"They had a chance to get him the game he pitched," Russell said. "For them to wait two months or whatever it is, after they hit a bunch of our guys the next day. To wait two or three months... I don't understand that. They made such a big deal about it, they had their opportunity, and they're going to wait until they're getting beat? I don't understand it."
Others took issue mostly with Braun.
As Karstens was being interviewed, Young yelled to him from across the clubhouse, "Call him a coward!"
"It's cheap. Very cheap," closer Matt Capps said of the incident last night. "We all know Karstens had no intention of hitting Braun in Milwaukee. The whole thing was blown way out of proportion by one guy, and it's ridiculous. Their whole team is going to let one guy run the morale of their whole team? Hey, that's their prerogative."
Braun was not immediately available for comment.
Russell was asked why Karstens batted in the eighth when he was not sent back out to pitch the ninth. He explained that he had wanted Karstens to finish the game to keep his bullpen fresh, but that Karstens was lifted after his elbow tightened.
Once Karstens took his base in the eighth, he eventually came around to score the Pirates' eighth run on a Milwaukee error, punctuating his evening.
"I'm not going to say too much about this," Karstens said. "We won the game. Now, we're going to start our own streak against them, hopefully."
It was the Pirates' first benches-clearing incident of the season, but who knows what could unfold in the final two games of this series?
"We were done with this a long time ago," Russell said.
"I'm sure there are going to be warnings before the next game," Milwaukee manager Ken Macha said. "This is part of the game that I don't condone and don't enjoy."
Home plate umpire Wally Bell issued a warning to Pirates reliever Jesse Chavez before the ninth last night.
Ryan Doumit was hit by Milwaukee starter Mike Burns in the first. He and Karstens made for a total of five batters hit by the Brewers this season, compared to four Brewers hit by the Pirates.
As for the rest of the game: Ross Ohlendorf was ragged through five innings -- seven hits, two walks -- but held the Brewers to two runs while stranding at least one runner each inning. Young's home run, his fourth, was a three-run shot off Burns into the center-field seats in the first. Jones' home run, his eighth in 15 games, was his first to the opposite field, as he sliced a Carlos Villanueva changeup into the bleachers.
"You hit one out to left and you're a left-handed hitter, you're hitting it pretty good," Macha said. "Not only that, but a changeup? That was pretty impressive."