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Farmer, Hicks provide needed spark, Tigers split twin bill

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' John Hicks, right, celebrates with third base coach Dave Clark after hitting a solo home run against the White Sox in the fourth inning.

Chicago – The music was playing again in the Tigers’ clubhouse. Players were laughing and cutting up. Just a few hours earlier, after the Tigers had lost Game 1 of the doubleheader and their third straight, the place was funereal.

“Anytime you get a win after a few losses, it feels good,” said manager Brad Ausmus, whose demeanor didn’t suggest he was feeling good at all. “But we’ve got to string some wins together.”

The Tigers got a serious charge from battery mates who have spent the bulk of the season at Triple-A Toledo – right-hander Buck Farmer and catcher John Hicks – and took the nightcap, 4-3, from the White Sox.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 4, White Sox 3

But the sudden drama in the bottom of the night tampered any postgame joy.

“It was a little gut-wrenching at the end, to be honest with you,” Ausmus said.

Understatement.

Staked to a 4-0 lead, closer Justin Wilson gave up a double to Jose Abreu and singles by Matt Davidson and Tim Anderson, and an opposite-field triple to Yolmer Sanchez. That quickly, it was a 4-3 game and the tying run was at third with one out.

“I need to pitch better,” Wilson said. “Especially in that situation. We haven’t been playing that well and I need to go in there and slam the door shut and I didn’t. Glad we won, glad we’re back on the right track, but I need to pitch better.”

He saved his best for last. He blew a 97-mph fastball past pinch-hitter Todd Frazier for the second out. Then he struck out rookie Adam Engel swinging through a 96-mph fastball.

It would have been a cruel fate for Farmer had Wilson not bowed his neck and closed it out. Bad enough that, despite picking up his first big-league win and pitching the best game of his career, he knew he had a return ticket to Toledo in his locker.

“I knew I was the 26th man,” Farmer said. “But the goal every time I come up is to leave them with something and hopefully I will be back sooner than later.”

Farmer had made 32 appearances and eight starts in the big leagues before Saturday – none remotely as impressive as this one.

“It would be tough for him to be any more crisp than he was today,” said Hicks. “He was really good. He had all of it working and his fastball command was as good as I’ve ever seen it.”

Farmer allowed three singles and struck out a career-best 11 in six shutout innings to help the Tigers snap their second three-game losing streak this week. The game ball for his first MLB win will be in his duffel on the trip back.

“It’s been a long time coming, I will say that,” Farmer said. “I’ve waited parts of three (this is the fourth) seasons for it. Feels good to finally get that weight off my shoulders.”

This was a much more polished pitcher than the Tigers had seen in Farmer the previous years.

“He’s been up here a number of times now,” Ausmus said. “He’s a lot calmer on the mound, a lot headier. He’s not overwhelmed by the atmosphere or the hitters he’s facing.”

His arsenal expanded to include a true slider, change-up and curveball. The two-seam fastball was still firm – 92-94 mph – with late movement. That pitch, as well as his change-up, had the White Sox hitters flailing.

Farmer posted 22 swings and misses – 12 on the fastball and 10 on the change-up, according to Baseball Savant.

“The slider is new, it’s bigger and a lot better,” Hicks said. “But I faced him in college and the change-up has always been his pitch. He used it really well today. You don’t see too many right-handers throw righty-on-righty change-ups as good as his.”

And finally, the offense perked up – even if just a little.

After being shut out in the first game, the Tigers were dragging a 16-inning scoreless streak into the fourth inning. Just like in the first game, they squandered chances.

In the second inning, Victor Martinez singled and J.D. Martinez walked off starter Derek Holland. Justin Upton slapped a single to right field. Victor Martinez rounded third and hesitated as third base coach Dave Clark clearly had his arms raised to stop him.

But Martinez decided to restart and head for home. He was thrown out.

The Tigers loaded the bases again in the third, but Holland struck out both Victor and J.D. Martinez.

Mercifully, Hicks broke the tension, and the drought, with a one-out, line-drive home run to left.

The Tigers tacked on a couple of gift runs in the seventh.

They loaded the bases for the fourth time in the doubleheader and this time they finally scored. J.D. Martinez drove in one with a sacrifice fly and another scored when Upton struck out and reached on a wild pitch.

Victor Martinez, who had two hits and two walks, capped the scoring with a 345-foot home run down the line in right field.

After making so many 400-plus foot outs this series and this season, that skinny home run felt like baseball justice. And, as it turned out, the winning run.

After just four hits in the opener, the Tigers banged out 11 hits in the nightcap. Dixon Machado had a career-high three singles and Nick Castellanos had two.

The Tigers had dropped six of the previous seven games, and had lost four of the last five against the White Sox. Bleeding, stopped.

Twitter: @cmccosky