DETROIT -- The Chris Sale-Justin Verlander pitching duel came down to Tigers rookie JaCoby Jones, who doubled twice and scored the winning run in the ninth on a Tyler Collins sacrifice fly to complete a sweep of the White Sox with a 3-2 victory on Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park.
The win, coupled with Baltimore's loss to Toronto on Wednesday night, pulled the Tigers even with the Orioles for the second American League Wild Card spot.
Jones, who went 2-for-4 in his Major League debut Tuesday night, put Detroit on the scoreboard when Andrew Romine singled him home in the fifth inning. That was the Tigers' lone run off Chris Sale until J.D. Martinez's two-out RBI single in the eighth tied it.
Jones greeted White Sox closer David Robertson in the ninth with a drive off the wall in right-center field. Jarrod Saltalamacchia's fly ball to the warning track in right moved Jones to third with one out. Collins, pinch-hitting for Romine, lofted a fly ball into shallow left-center, deep enough for the speedy Jones to take off for home. Left fielder Avisail Garcia's throw didn't get to the plate.
"It seems like sometimes after we see a starter a couple or three times, we tend to have better at-bats," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "And for whatever reason, we seem to do pretty well against back-end relievers. You're not always going to come back and win games against the back end of bullpens, but we least put up a fight."
It marked the second hard-luck decision at Comerica Park in four weeks for Sale, who gave up two runs over eight innings at Comerica Park on Aug. 3 but lost on a Martinez home run. Sale all but silenced a Tigers offense that put up 12 runs over the first two games of the series. The southpaw allowed nine baserunners over the first five innings, but survived with help from three double-play grounders.
By contrast, Verlander looked nearly unhittable early, striking out six of his first eight batters and retiring 11 of the first 12. He was an out away from a clean fourth inning when Jose Abreu extended on a 2-2 changeup low and inside, sending it over the left-field fence for his 19th home run of the season. Former Tiger Alex Avila jumped Verlander's next pitch and sent it deep to center for his fifth home run on the year -- and his first off his former teammate.
"They actually weren't bad pitches," Verlander said. "Really just have to turn the page, tip the cap. I think Alex, having caught me a lot, cheated a little bit to that first-pitch heater in."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Going back to back: Abreu's two-out, two-strike solo home run to left field off Verlander gave the White Sox a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning. Avila followed that up with a solo shot of his own on the next pitch, deep into the center-field shrubbery. The homer was measured at 435 feet by Statcast™, eclipsing a 417-foot drive from 2015 that previously stood as his longest of the Statcast™ era. That was the sixth time this season the Sox have hit back-to-back blasts, and the second time in five days.
For Avila, it was his fifth home run of the season and his first against his former team.
"[It] felt good," Avila said. "I'm sure we'll talk about it at some point. He did strike me out twice today, too."
Encore for the rookie: Hours after Jones became the first Tiger since 1942 with a multi-hit, multi-RBI Major League debut, he had another impact game, hitting two of the tougher pitchers in the American League Central with opposite-field gappers. After going the other way with a Sale slider, he did the same with a Robertson cutter and nearly sent it to the out-of-town scoreboard, setting Detroit's offense in motion for the winning run.
"Just the last couple years, that's my strength -- right-center, center field, just reacting on balls in," Jones said. "I'm staying middle of the field, staying inside the ball. I just put a good swing on that cutter. I wish it went out, but it didn't." More >
Smooth Sale-ing: After allowing an RBI single to Romine in the fifth inning, Sale settled down to retire eight of nine Tigers hitters his third time through the lineup. He racked up five strikeouts in a seven-batter span before he gave up the game-tying run in the bottom of the eighth.
"You just find a groove once you get going," Sale said. "You can't do the same thing twice to any team or in back-to-back outings. You find out what you're working with throughout the game and just try to maintain that." More >
Sale away: Four weeks after J.D. Martinez sent Sale to defeat, Sale held him hitless in his first three at-bats. With one more chance to thwart Sale's gem, however, he put up another clutch hit off the White Sox ace, this time with a line drive into left field for a two-out RBI single in the eighth. Martinez finished August batting .404 with 11 doubles, seven homers, 21 runs scored and 15 RBIs. He's now 9-for-32 off Sale.
"No. I don't come here for the experience. I come here to win games, and it didn't happen today. It's tough. It's unfortunate. That's a good team. That's what good teams do, they find a way to win." -- Sale, on whether he could appreciate the touted pitching matchup
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Jones is the first Tiger to open his Major League career with back-to-back multi-hit games since Avila opened his career with three consecutive two-hit games in August 2009.
WHAT'S NEXT White Sox: The White Sox head to Minnesota for a four-game series to wrap up the road trip, with Thursday's opener set for 7:10 p.m. CT. Jose Quintana puts his AL-leading 2.77 ERA up against a Twins team he is 2-1 against this season.
Tigers: After an off-day Thursday, the Tigers open a three-game series Friday night in Kansas City with an 8:15 p.m. ET game at Kauffman Stadium. Anibal Sanchez (7-13, 5.92 ERA) gets the start after taking a no-hit bid into the seventh inning against the Royals two weeks ago in Detroit.