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Detroit — It starts with a foot in the door. But the Tigers are looking for much more than that.

So if they had clinched a playoff spot by beating the White Sox, 6-1, on Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park, instead of doing it when the Mariners lost to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night, there would not have been a clubhouse celebration.

"Maybe some high-fives and congratulations," said winning pitcher Justin Verlander. "But I don't think you would have seen us get hammered and come in (today) not ready to play."

That's because removing the Mariners as a competitor was never the goal.

In fact, some of the Tigers didn't even know until the day it could actually occur that a combination of a victory over the White Sox and a loss for the Mariners would guarantee Detroit at least a wild-card berth in the postseason.

The Tigers have been focused on loftier goals than that, such as winning the American League Central, which they moved closer to doing when the Royals lost to the Indians, 6-4.

The Tigers now lead the Royals by two games with four remaining. Their magic number is three.

But as the week has evolved, eliminating the Mariners became the first step of the ladder.

The waiting for that to happen began after the final out of the Tigers victory over the White Sox.

It wasn't a glued-to-the-set kind of vigil. Chances are no dinner plans got canceled. But the score of Seattle's game, which the Mariners lost 1-0, was worth monitoring all the same.

Because with Seattle no longer capable of catching Detroit, "it means we're in," second baseman Ian Kinsler said.

"It means we have an opportunity to get to the World Series regardless of what happens from here on out," he said.

Kinsler admitted, however, he didn't know until Wednesday what was riding on a Tigers victory and a Mariners loss.

"I was so focused on being a game up on Kansas City and winning a division," he said, "that I didn't think about the math involving the wild card.

"To have the insurance you're going to be in the playoffs is big, but that's not the goal."

Broken down to its simplest terms, the goal is to just keep winning. If that happens from this point on, the Tigers will accomplish all they desire.

And to win a game, as they did, while facing an outstanding pitcher such as Chicago's Chris Sale? That's just an added plus.

It wasn't until Sale exited after the sixth inning — the angry sixth inning — that the Tigers took charge, though.

It was in the bottom of the sixth, with the White Sox leading 1-0, that both benches and bullpens emptied when Sale hit Victor Martinez with a pitch, apparently for the thought Martinez was stealing signs.

"To think Victor had someone in center with binoculars wasn't very smart," Kinsler said.

Even the hint of that being the reason was crazier still.

"It's weak that they would hit him," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "They clearly did it on purpose, and that's bad news. That can't happen. It was just weak on Sale's part."

No punches were thrown with the emptying of the benches and bullpens as Martinez and Sale yapped at each other. But the Tigers got their revenge by how much the game changed.

The White Sox had taken a 1-0 lead against Verlander (15-12) in the top of the sixth on Dayan Viciedo's two-out triple that knocked in Jose Abreu from third, the only run in eight innings off an otherwise-effective Verlander.

Sale began his protection of the lead in the bottom of the sixth by striking out Miguel Cabrera for the third straight time.

With his first pitch to Martinez, however, the All-Star left-hander drilled him with a 93 mile an hour fastball. It was then that both benches and bullpens converged, but peace wasn't difficult to restore — not nearly as difficult, in fact, as it was for the White Sox to maintain their lead.

Sale gave up a double to J.D. Martinez and a tying sacrifice fly to Nick Castellanos after everyone went back to where they were supposed to be.

Not only that, Sale did not return for the seventh inning despite a pitch count (101) that should have allowed it.

And once the White Sox bullpen took over, the Tigers feasted with two runs in the seventh and three in the eighth.

After that, the waiting game began for the outcome of not just the Kansas City-Cleveland game, but for Seattle-Toronto as well.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/Tom_Gage

Detroit Tigers