DETROIT -- Josh Phegley took the luxury car for a nice long ride on Thursday afternoon.
Given the chance to catch Chris Sale for the first time in his career, the rookie provided the two-time All-Star with the run support he has lacked for nearly two months with one big swing. Phegley’s sixth-inning grand slam put the White Sox ahead for good as Sale snapped a seven-start winless streak in a wild 6-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers in front of 40,444 at Comerica Park.
Hours before a game in which the benches cleared, White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Phegley’s opporunity to catch Sale was akin to the first time “you’re handed the keys to a really good car.”
Phegley laughed after the game about Ventura’s description.
“We needed to get him a win,” Phegley said. “(Sale) threw well and deserved it. To get run support to have him on top at the end was really good.”
Phegley didn’t waste the opportunity to take Sale for a spin.
With the White Sox trailing the Tigers 3-1 in the sixth, Phegley, who made his fifth career start, worked the count full against pitcher Anibal Sanchez before he drove an 83-mph changeup into the left-field bullpen.
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The homer, Phegley’s third since he was promoted last Friday, represented more than half the run support Sale has received since he last won on May 17. Over his previous seven starts, six of which were losses, the White Sox had scored nine runs for Sale (6-8).
Phegley is the first White Sox player since Magglio Ordonez in 1997 to have three homers in his first five games.
The White Sox also scored a first-inning run for Sale, who hadn’t received any runs in his past two starts.
“I don’t even know these guys any more the way they scored for Sale today,” Ventura joked. “You just keep going. It’s a good feeling. As low as it has been, you can have a series like this and bad a really good team.”
Sale, Phegley and Ventura all had a good feeling about how the battery mates worked together in their first outing.
Prior to their 124 pitches together on Thursday, Phegley previously caught Sale for one inning at Single-A in 2010 and a few bullpens. While Sale may have been overthrowing, which played a part in a sixth-inning bench-clearing incident, none of his issues related to how he and Phegley worked together.
“He was right on track,” Sale said. “He and Tyler (Flowers) put in a lot of time and effort into that. I’m trusting them and go with it.”
Sale wasn’t quite as on track.
He battled a good lineup for most of the day and had to pitch his way out of several jams.
The left-hander gave up a pair of opposite-field home runs to fall behind 3-1. Matt Tuiasosopo hit the first, a two-run shot to right in the second inning to put the Tigers ahead 2-1. Miguel Cabrera blasted the other, his 30th, in the fifth inning.
But Sale was strong enough to pitch through a long delay in the top of the sixth after both benches emptied.
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The incident began as a result of what Detroit thought was a purpose pitch an inning earlier. After Cabrera homered in the fifth, Sale threw a fastball high and tight to Prince Fielder.
An inning later, Tigers reliever Luke Putkonen was ejected after his first pitch went behind the back of Alexei Ramirez, who pointed at the pitcher and took several steps toward the mound. Both benches and bullpens cleared but no punches were thrown until the field was cleared.
Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who also was ejected, argued with umpires twice during a lengthy delay.
But Sale -- who allowed three earned runs, 10 hits and walked two in 6 2/3 innings -- shook it off with a strong sixth inning. He struck out a pair and got two more outs before he exited in the seventh inning with a two-run lead after a two-out double by Torii Hunter. Matt Lindstrom retired Cabrera on a fly out to preserve the 5-3 lead. Matt Thornton and Addison Reed each pitched scoreless innings to preserve Sale’s victory.
“It was fun,” Phegley said. “(Sale) has electric stuff. I wasn't stressing, but I knew I had to be on my A game and focus to deal with his stuff. After catching him in the bullpen I felt comfortable. We threw a good game and he threw well.”