DETROIT -- The Tigers spent the summer talking about how their turnaround from a miserable start to the season should raise expectations for them to make the jump to contenders, maybe even as soon as next year. They discussed competing better against the White Sox in the home stretch as a statement going into 2022.
If they needed anything more to talk about with the White Sox, Monday afternoon’s benches-clearing incident provided it.
With the White Sox having already clinched the division title and the Tigers readying their offseason effort to catch up, Monday was expected to be a sleepy makeup game from last Wednesday's rainout before both teams hit the road, with little at stake beyond postseason seeding and Draft order. But as Chicago closer Liam Hendriks screamed toward the dugouts following a called third strike on Niko Goodrum that secured the win, and as the crowd at Comerica Park booed loudly and Miguel Cabrera pointed to the White Sox dugout, the atmosphere felt like meaningful October baseball.
It could be fuel for a division rivalry next year -- the reigning champs against the up-and-coming contenders. But before that, these teams have three more games against each other in Chicago to close out the regular season starting on Friday.
“I'm not here to spark a rivalry or whatever,” said reliever Alex Lange, whose 97 mph fastball hit Jose Abreu on an 0-2 pitch with one out in the ninth. “It was unintentional. It is what it is. It happens. It's baseball. I'm allowed to pitch in. I wasn't headhunting. There was nothing malicious about it.”
The rivalry started well before Lange or Abreu, or even Hinch and White Sox manager Tony La Russa. The Tigers and White Sox have a long-documented history of not liking each other. Fans still talk about their 2000 fracas in Chicago, which included 11 players ejected, 16 suspensions between players and coaches, and Robert Fick exchanging words with fans as he was showered with beer. Chris Sale once sparked an incident when he suggested Victor Martinez had somebody with binoculars tipping pitches from center field at Comerica Park.
Few current players were around for any of those aside from Cabrera. But after the Tigers went 1-9 against the White Sox last year -- outscored by a 70-28 margin -- and lost eight of their first 10 meetings this year, Detroit clearly needed to turn its fortunes in the rivalry to show any presentation of a division fight in the future, despite the club's improvement against other teams all season.
The Tigers won two of three at Comerica Park in July, then rallied for two comeback wins in Detroit last week before rain washed out the series finale. That’s how the White Sox ended up back in Motown, and the Tigers ended up with another home game after their home finale festivities on Sunday.
For seven and a half innings, it was a typical getaway game. The White Sox pounced on an ineffective Matt Manning and had an 8-2 lead entering the eighth inning after Eloy Jiménez homered off of Ian Krol in the seventh. Chicago sent out Mike Wright Jr. for the eighth with the middle of the Tigers' order due up.
Cabrera’s eighth-inning leadoff double -- his 2,986th career hit -- appeared more meaningful for history than for the game. But Detroit’s next four batters reached base, including Goodrum, who tripled in two runs. Once Jonathan Schoop’s sacrifice fly scored Goodrum, the Tigers had pulled within one run of the White Sox.
One of Detroit’s five runs in the eighth was Isaac Paredes, who was hit by the final pitch of Wright’s outing. The Tigers had no illusion it was intentional, but when Lange hit Abreu the following inning, Abreu’s 21st hit-by-pitch this season, some on the White Sox side apparently viewed it as a retaliation.
Players from Chicago's dugout yelled at plate umpire Lance Barrett, who eventually ejected bench coach Miguel Cairo. They also yelled at Lange, which brought a sharp response from Hinch. When Lange’s next pitch to Yasmani Grandal bounced in the dirt, Abreu took off for second, sliding hard into the bag as Niko Goodrum tagged him out.
Abreu popped up and exchanged words with Goodrum. The benches and the bullpens cleared. Players shoved each other behind second base. Hinch and La Russa had words with each other. And a seemingly dormant one-sided rivalry was reignited, just in time for next season.