DETROIT – It was hard to tell who was happier when Joshua Phegley’s sixth-inning grand slam cleared the fence – Phegley himself, or the pitcher who would benefit from those four runs.
Phegley’s drive gave Chris Sale some long-awaited offensive support, and the White Sox went on to beat the Detroit Tigers, 6-3, on Thursday in a game that included a benches-clearing altercation shortly after the Sox took the lead.
Sale was 0-6 in his previous seven starts despite an ERA of 3.10 over that span. With one swing, Phegley helped the left-hander end his unfortunate winless stretch.
“That was awesome,” Sale said. “Being in that situation and watching that ball go over the fence, that was very satisfying to say the least. What a game. We didn’t put our heads down, didn’t quit.”
The Sox trailed 3-1 when Phegley cleared the bases with a homer off Detroit starter Anibal Sanchez (7-6). Luke Putkonen came on and got one out before throwing a pitch behind Alexei Ramirez, who started toward the mound before being restrained.
Benches and bullpens emptied, but the situation didn’t escalate into any sort of fight. Putkonen was ejected, and Detroit manager Jim Leyland argued with umpires at length and was also tossed from the game.
“I wasn’t trying to hit anybody,” Putkonen said. “Just threw a fastball inside, and it got away from me.”
Ramirez felt otherwise.
“Obviously, that wasn’t a pitch that was intended to go in the zone,” he said through a translator.
Sale (6-8) allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings. Addison Reed pitched the ninth for his 23rd save in 27 chances.
Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera hit his 30th homer of the year, a solo shot in the fifth that gave the Tigers a 3-1 lead. Prince Fielder was up next, and Sale threw a pitch high and inside to the Detroit slugger.
Sale said he didn’t mean to come close to hitting Fielder.
“Just trying to rare back and throw it as hard as I can. I’ve said it before – there’s a time and a place for that, and that wasn’t the time or the place,” Sale said. “I’m not even trying to send a message. I wasn’t even trying to back him off the plate, honestly. I’ve got a lot of respect for Prince, the Detroit Tigers and the game of baseball.”
The Sox rallied off Sanchez to take the lead, and then Putkonen’s pitch nearly hit Ramirez. Leyland looked fired up during the brouhaha that followed, and he twice came back out to argue with umpires.
Leyland did not speak to reporters after the game. Plate umpire Chad Fairchild explained the decision to eject Putkonen.
“He threw behind him and I deemed it intentional,” Fairchild said.
Fairchild did not view Sale’s pitch to Fielder the same way.
“There was no reaction from Fielder. He said nothing. There was no reaction from anyone else,” Fairchild said. “The only reaction I saw was from Sale, who made a motion like, ‘Damn, it got away.’”
Sale sounded upset with himself afterward.
“Even when I threw it on the mound, I was kind of like, ‘Ohhhhh, that’s not good.’ So from the outside looking in, it doesn’t look good at all. Like I said, I swear on everything I love, it was unintentional,” he said. “Any time your teammates have something like that happen because of something you did, that’s not fun.
“Obviously, I won’t sit here and say (Putkonen’s pitch) was intentional – maybe it got away from him as well – but you see something like that, and you kind of feel like an even bigger idiot, knowing that could have hurt him and done whatever, and that was because of me.”
With the crowd booing, Ramirez hit a single to right field and then left the game because of cramping in his right leg.
Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson couldn’t come up with Jeff Keppinger’s sinking liner to start the sixth and was charged with an error. After a walk and a strikeout, Gordon Beckham singled and the 25-year-old Phegley followed with a grand slam in his 18th major league at-bat.
“Especially for Sale, we needed to get him a win,” Phegley said. “He threw well and he deserved it.”
Phegley is 4 for 20 now – with three homers.
Sale allowed 10 hits, walked two and struck out eight. He left in the seventh after allowing a double by Torii Hunter, and Matt Lindstrom came on and got Cabrera on a flyout.
Alejandro De Aza made it 6-3 with a homer in the eighth off Phil Coke. De Aza also hit a single and a double.
Ramirez opened the scoring in the first with an RBI double, but Matt Tuiasosopo put the Tigers ahead with a two-run homer in the second.
Cabrera’s solo shot increased his RBI total to 94. He’s the first player to reach 30 homers and 90 RBIs before the All-Star break, according to STATS. A pair of Cincinnati Reds — Tony Perez in 1970 and George Foster in 1977 — made it to 29 and 90.
NOTES: ... Chicago RHP Jake Peavy (fractured left rib) is scheduled for a rehab game Sunday with Double-A Birmingham at Huntsville. ... Detroit hosts Texas on Friday night, with RHP Doug Fister (6-5) taking the mound against RHP Justin Grimm (7-6) of the Rangers. The White Sox play at Philadelphia. Chicago LHP John Danks (2-5) takes on Philadelphia RHP Jonathan Pettibone (5-3).