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Detroit — The Tigers were able to laugh about it afterward — not because it was funny so much, but because it was absolutely absurd.

"What a joke," Victor Martinez said. "Honestly, I have no words for it."

White Sox left-hander Chris Sale nailed Martinez in the upper arm with a first-pitch fastball with one out in the sixth inning Wednesday. To that point, Sale had allowed three hits and struck out nine. He was in total control and his team was ahead 1-0.

"At the beginning (after he was hit), I never had a problem with him," Martinez said. "I looked at him but he didn't say anything. After the benches cleared, Avisail (Garcia, former Tiger) came down from right field and then he told me somebody in center field was giving me the signs. I was like, 'You have to be kidding me.' "

Sale had struck out Martinez to end the third inning, and seemed to wave his cap sarcastically toward the outfield stands. Nobody was sure what that meant until Sale plunked Martinez and then repeated the gesture.

He thought Martinez, who came into the game hitting .536 against Sale, had somebody in the right-centerfield stands with binoculars stealing the catcher's signals and flashing them to him at the plate.

"I've been doing this (hitting well) my whole career and that's what he thinks?" Martinez said "What happened with the other guys who hit good against him — were they using somebody, too? I have a lot of respect for Sale. But what happened today, you have to be kidding me.

"Why didn't he say that when I was hitting him last year?"

The benches cleared, though no punches were thrown. The Tigers, dormant to that point, got fired up. J.D. Martinez doubled Victor Martinez to third and Nick Castellanos tied the game with a sacrifice fly.

Sale was done after the sixth and the Tigers scored five runs off the White Sox bullpen to win, 6-1.

"Yeah, it fired us up a little bit," said Ian Kinsler, who had a double, single and two RBIs off White Sox relievers. "That's a little ridiculous to have that, to put that on Vic. The guy is having an incredible year and that's what you are going to blame it on?

"(Sale) has a sub-2.00 ERA basically all year, he's given up three hits? I don't know who was telling him that or what he saw or what someone else saw — but that's tough to put on a player like Vic who has been incredible his whole career."

Manager Brad Ausmus was steaming about it after the game.

"To me, it's a little ridiculous," he said. "I doubt Victor had a guy at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago with binoculars when he hit that home run off him (earlier this season). I don't know if Victor has someone in every stadium. It's ludicrous to me that they would make that claim."

And it put the Tigers in a precarious position regarding any possible retaliation.

"It's a little weak they would hit him," Ausmus said. "If they injure Victor there and we're in the playoff hunt, that's bad news. That can't happen. He clearly did it on purpose. He made it obvious.

"And quite frankly, we can't do anything about it. There were warnings and if we retaliated, one of our guys could have gotten suspended and it could have went right into the playoffs.

It was just weak on Sale's part."

For his part, Sale was in full denial.

On hitting Martinez: "Obviously, we know his numbers against myself," Sale said. "If you're going to go pitch in, you've got to get in. One got away."

On words being exchanged during the aftermath: "I just think it was tempers flaring. I don't think it was one thing in particular. Just a bunch of big kids out playing a pretty competitive game at this time of the year and I think that got the better of us all in that situation."

On his gesturing to the outfield stands: "There was a guy wearing me out in the bullpen, talking about how good the Tigers are and how good Victor's been against me. That was for him."

Why then did he make the sign for binoculars when he was in the dugout — a gesture that Kinsler mocked after his double: "Definitely wasn't for binoculars," Sale said. "I was just goofing around. I'm out there trying to have a good time. It's my last start, trying to have fun out there, joking around, keeping everyone loose in the dugout."

The Tigers didn't buy any of that, especially after Garcia blew his cover.

"There's no way Miggy (Cabrera) strikes out three times, I strike out, I mean, he was dealing," Torii Hunter said. "We only had three hits. And yet we knew what was coming? I know he's good, but he's great if we knew what was coming and only got three hits."

Hunter has seen a lot of things in his career, but never somebody stealing signs from center field, through binoculars.

"You could do it," he said. "Somebody could be out there raising a hat if it's a fastball or something like that, but nobody does it. All that is just a myth. I never heard of anybody really doing that."

Martinez couldn't figure out the logistics of it.

"To be paying attention to somebody behind him and then pay attention to him?" Martinez said. "I don't know how he thinks I was doing that?"

Hunter just shook his head.

"I don't know if that got Sale off his rhythm or what but there's an old saying, let sleeping dogs lie," he said. "He kind of woke us up a little bit."

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/cmccosky

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