The benches cleared during Monday afternoon's White Sox-Tigers tilt at Comerica Park, and Chicago slugger José Abreu had to be held back by his teammates.
The Tigers had rallied from a six-run deficit to draw within one run of the White Sox thanks to a five-run eighth inning, which included Detroit second baseman Isaac Paredes being hit by a pitch from Chicago's Mike Wright Jr.
Then Alex Lange, a rookie reliever who has received late-inning work following Gregory Soto’s season-ending injury, entered in the top of the ninth inning, trying to keep it a one-run game. He quickly retired Leury García to begin the inning. Lange had an 0-2 count on Abreu, who fouled off back-to-back fastballs just off the outside corner, when his 97 mph fastball went inside and hit Abreu on his left elbow, leaving Abreu hunched over in pain.
“He’s leaning out over the plate. He sees I’m working away,” Lange said. “Our report says that we finish him up and in. That’s where I was going. Obviously it wasn’t intentional. We’re competing, he’s competing.
“I understand why he’s upset. He got hit. Obviously it wasn’t intentional, but I’m pitching to my report. I’m going in and I’m trying to get him out.”
Tigers manager A.J. Hinch echoed Lange's sentiments.
“Let me just set the record straight: There’s no reason to hit Jose Abreu, really, ever,” Hinch said. “I mean, he does everything right on the field. He had nothing to do with anything. We had two strikes on him. If you throw the ball out over the plate, he destroys you. So we threw it inside. It hit him, and I think given that they’d hit one of our guys …"
“It hurts, 97 [mph] at the elbow hurts," Hinch continued. "And again, at this time of the season, we want no part of anybody on the other side getting hurt. We’re going to compete and play hard and try to pitch them tough, but there’s no reason to hit him.”
Abreu took first base as manager Tony La Russa came out of the dugout and argued for a warning, while others in the White Sox dugout yelled at Lange as Hinch yelled over from the Tigers' dugout. White Sox coach Miguel Cairo was ejected.
“They were yelling at Lange, and then I’m going to stand up for my player,” Hinch said. “You can fix your own players. I’ll manage my team. That’s all I was mad about. No reason to bark at Lange. You can bark at me or you can bark at the umpire, and that was really what was the exchange between the two dugouts was.”
Lange’s 97 mph fastball was the 21st pitch to hit Abreu this season, the fifth most in the Majors entering play Monday night. That said, it was the first time the Tigers had hit Abreu since Spencer Turnbull hit him twice on Sept. 29, 2019.
“It’s a one-run game. We worked our tail off to get back in that game, which is another reason that we’re not going to drill José Abreu with two strikes,” Hinch said. “We worked our tail off to even have a chance at that game. So yeah, the intensity always goes up.”
White Sox teammate Dallas Keuchel understood why the slugger was upset.
“That’s a lot of times getting hit on the body,” Keuchel said. “Overall, you are in the box, you are trying to battle, you are trying to get hits, you are trying to provide for the team.
“I, myself, have hit Pito [Abreu] before and it’s not the best feeling in the world. He is a large human being. We have to protect our guys. He is no different.
Once play resumed, Lange threw his next pitch in the dirt to Yasmani Grandal. Abreu tried to steal second and slid hard into the bag as shortstop Niko Goodrum applied the tag to retire him. Abreu stood up and exchanged seemingly heated words with Goodrum, who stood with his hands raised as he responded.
"I thought the slide was hard at second base," Keuchel said. "It was a good slide. … There was no ill intent as well. If I was pitching tomorrow, I would stick up for Pito.”
“[The Tigers] have issues when someone plays aggressively, but not when they pitch aggressively and beyond the limits," La Russa said. "The game is played two ways, not one way."
“That used to be how you took care of it," Hinch said. "You used to run to second base and if anybody tried to get in your way, you took a hard, aggressive slide, which he did.”
Second-base umpire Tim Timmons stepped in front of Abreu as Lange came over and the benches cleared. A shoving match ensued before Tigers coach Arnie Beyeler, an extra coach brought in from Double-A Erie for the stretch run, separated Lange from the scrum.
“There was nothing really escalating, I guess. Just a bunch of words,” Lange said. "And everyone was just really upset. But I don’t know. Basically what you saw there was what happened. I was just out there backing my team.”
La Russa and Hinch exchanged words before Timmons intervened.
“Nobody wants any trouble, but we’re going to stand up for ourselves,” Hinch said. “When people are barking about us throwing at guys and we’re not doing it, we’re going to stand up for ourselves, especially at home. We weren’t throwing at anybody, but yet when somebody calls you to the carpet, you have to stand up and defend yourself.”
Following La Russa's one-game suspension after an incident on Sept. 18 during a series with the Angels, the White Sox manager was outspoken about his stars, including Abreu, getting hit often.
"Our guys, three guys get hit, one guy gets hit in the head, Abreu gets hit for the 19th time, and nobody pays attention to that," he said. "There’s an unfairness there that upsets me.”
No ejections came out of Monday's incident. Lange stayed in the game and gave up a double to Grandal before retiring Eloy Jiménez to end the inning. Abreu took the field at first base for the bottom of the ninth as Liam Hendriks finished off Chicago’s 8-7 win, retiring the Tigers in order following Jeimer Candelario’s leadoff single. Hendriks yelled loudly toward the White Sox dugout after ending the game with a called third strike on Goodrum.