This was the Chris Sale we’re used to seeing.
This was also the White Sox offense we’re used to seeing.
The result was one we’re seeing too much.
Sale recorded his first 10-strikeout game of the season while throwing his league-leading fourth complete game, but it was only an eight-inning one. J.D. Martinez made sure of that. Pinch-hitting for James McCann to lead off the eighth inning, he swung at the first pitch he saw in a month and a half for the go-ahead solo shot.
The White Sox tried to rally against Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning, but Dioner Navarro dribbled out to second with the bases loaded to end the game. The Tigers won their eighth straight game to pull into a temporary tie with Boston for the second wild card, while the Sox dropped their third straight game to drop a season-worst five games below .500.
Martinez hadn’t played for the Tigers since June 16, when he departed with a fractured elbow after a collision with the wall. Sale started him with a 93 mph fastball up and over the plate, and Martinez wasted no time, hitting a no-doubter to left center to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead. Sale toughed out the rest of the inning, striking out Miguel Cabrera with a runner on second, which gave his teammates a chance to get him off the hook.
They came within 90 feet of doing so. Melky Cabrera started the inning by beating out a routine grounder to third, and Jose Abreu made it interesting with a walk. Justin Morneau helped by hitting a flyout to center deep enough to advance Cabrera, bringing Todd Frazier to the plate. Frazier got the edge with a 2-1 count, but still ended up on the ropes. He barely fouled off a 2-2 curve, then struck out over a changeup in the dirt for the second out.
Avisail Garcia kept the inning alive by drawing a five-pitch walk. Up came Dioner Navarro with the bases loaded, Rodriguez at 28 pitches and Bruce Rondon backing him up in the bullpen. He watched a first changeup out of the zone, but he guessed fastball and got another changeup. Unfortunately, he made contact, topping it slowly to second for the final out.
Sale dropped to 14-5, but it was the kind of start that can improve Cy Young chances, as he just allowed the two runs over eight innings, striking out 10 while walking only one.
The other run scored in the fourth, starting with Cabrera doubling to left. After a Victor Martinez walk, Nick Castellanos blooped a double into right to score Cabrera. Sale struck out Justin Upton to get some footing, then appeared to have a second out when Mike Aviles hit a flare into foul territory. Jose Abreu tracked it, but he dropped it for an error.
Sale gave Abreu another chance when he induced another weak foul fly from Aviles. This was a tougher catch further into the outfield, but Abreu made the correction for the out. With Abreu's back to home plate, Martinez tried to testing the accuracy of his arm, and that move backfired. Abreu threw a one-hopper to Navarro well in time for the double play.
That wasn’t the only case of deja vu tonight. With two outs in the seventh, Avisail Garcia took a Michael Fulmer fastball off the knob of his bat. Although Garcia reacted as though it hit his hand, home plate umpire Alan Porter called it a foul ball, and the call was upheld after a challenge.
Then Fulmer drilled Garcia on the elbow with the next pitch, which was his last of the game.
Earlier in the inning, Justin Morneau hit a first pitch out to right with two outs to tie the game. Fulmer then walked Frazier before plunking Garcia, forcing Brad Ausmus to call for Shane Greene before the inning got away from Fulmer. Greene had no problem retiring Navarro, either, striking him out on a slider in the dirt to end the threat. Navarro went 0-for-4 with six stranded on the night, five of them coming in his last two chances.
*Fulmer used the double-play ball early, getting three of them over the first four innings.
*Sale had 13 games with 10 or more strikeouts last season.