Trending up: Tigers use walk-off HR to sweep White Sox

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
Tigers' Justin Upton celebrates his three-run, walk-off home run against the White Sox with third base coach Dave Clark on Sunday.

Detroit – Leave it to the guy who made sure the day ended in celebration for the home team to provide the perfect summation to an eventful, four-hour baseball game.

“We played the game the right way today and we got rewarded for it,” said Justin Upton, who provided the Tigers with their first walk-off win and first series sweep of the season with a dramatic three-run home run to beat the White Sox, 7-4, Sunday.

It was the Tigers’ fourth straight win and they return to .500 (28-28) for the first time since May 19.  After struggling to score runs on the 11-game road trip, the Tigers scored 32 runs in the three wins over the White Sox.

BOX SCORE: Tigers 7, White Sox 4

“We’ve been much better offensively since the first game in Kansas City,” said manager Brad Ausmus. “I’m not ready to throw a parade, but I’ve always felt good about this offense.

“I know people thought I was crazy when we scored zero runs in the second game in Kansas City (and he vowed they would scored runs), but we have too many good hitters to not eventually score runs.”

After Justin Wilson wriggled out of a jam in the top of the ninth, getting a clutch double-play ball from Yolmer Sanchez, White Sox closer David Robertson hit Nick Castellanos to start the bottom of the ninth.

Upton came up with runners at first and second and one out. He got a hanging, breaking ball on an 0-1 pitch and fouled it off.

“I wanted that one back, too,” Upton said. “Normally you don’t get ‘em back. But I continued to battle and finally got a pitch I could handle.”

Robertson missed with a fastball, but then on 1-2, he went back to his breaking ball and Upton didn’t miss it. He slammed deep into the left-field seats for his team-high 11th home run.

“It went back and forth and we had to battle for runs and then they battled back,” Upton said. “For us to come out on top was huge.”

So many twists and turns. Tigers ace Justin Verlander lasted just two innings. He was pulled from the game after giving up a home run to Todd Frazier and a walk in the third inning complaining of tightness in his right groin.

He had a precautionary MRI after the game.

“We don’t think it’s anything major,” Ausmus said. “We don’t expect the MRI to show anything, but we will know more tomorrow. He wanted to continue. It was my call to get him out of there.”

Verlander, who endured a 39-pitch first inning, had already thrown 72 pitches and was behind 2-0. It was the fourth shortest start of his career.

Right-hander Warwick Saupold, as he has since rejoining the club, slammed the door shut for four innings, allowing the Tigers to fight back.

“He was huge,” Ausmus said. “Second outing in a row. He did the same thing for us in Kansas City – giving us multiple innings and getting us deeper into the game and keeping the score where it was.”

J.D. Martinez’s 10th home run of the season cut it to 2-1 in the fourth and then the Tigers gained the lead with three runs in the bottom of the sixth with a most non-Tiger-like rally.

Upton led off with a single and raced around to third on an errant pickoff throw by relief pitcher Chris Beck.

John Hicks, after an epic nine-pitch battle – he fouled off four pitches with the count 2-2 – lined a double to the gap in left center to tie the game.

“I’m just battling,” Hicks said. “With a guy on third, I just want to get the ball in the air. He threw me some good pitches away and luckily I was able to get a piece of them. Then he left a change-up over the plate and I was able to get it in the gap.”

The White Sox issued an intentional walk to pinch-hitter Victor Martinez, putting runners on first and second. Alex Presley was summoned to bat for JaCoby Jones. Ausmus considered using Alex Avila in that spot.

“Then I would have burned my entire bench,” Ausmus said. “And I’d rather not bring in my second catcher in the sixth inning. I decided to bunt with Presley, knowing that Jose Iglesias (up next) has been swinging the bat good.”

Presley fouled off the first bunt attempt. Hicks, on second, noticed that third baseman Frazier was charging and leaving third base unoccupied.

“I saw Frazier was way out there and when I saw that, I said, ‘Well, if they’re not running wheel (moving the shortstop to third), then third base should be open,’” Hicks said. “It was almost like a delayed steal. I hopped off a little bit, saw the ball down and saw Presley pulling his bat back and I just took off.”

Hicks stole the base without a throw.

“Hicks did that (on his own),” Ausmus said. “It was very heads-up base running. No question it changed the complexion of the inning because we are no longer bunting.”

And, with the runner at third, the White Sox pulled their infield in, which enabled Presley’s hard-hit ball to scoot past second baseman Sanchez to score the third run.

The fourth run scored on a ground out by Iglesias.

Pretty good inning of baseball for the Tigers.

“It’s not just about the hitting, we know we can swing the bat,” Upton said. “But some of the things we did on the bases were huge for us. Hicks getting that extra base, going first to third on base hits. Those are the things that win games that go unnoticed.”

That wasn’t the end of the drama, of course. Alex Wilson, after pitching a quick, 1-2-3 seventh inning, gave up three doubles in the eighth, to Frazier, Tim Anderson and Kevan Smith, and the White Sox tied it at 4.

Ausmus explained why he used Wilson for a second inning.

“I was actually trying to stay away from (Shane) Greene,” Ausmus said. “He told me he could give us maybe an inning, but if I was to use him, it was only going to be for a couple of outs – just because of his usage lately.

“That’s why I pitched Alex in the seventh. I wanted to let him go as far as he could and let Greene pick up what was left.”

Greene came on with runners at the corners and one out and made his two outs count. He struck out Adam Engel and got Melky Cabrera to ground out to end the inning.

“Baseball is a game of momentum,” Hicks said. “There’s going to be swings throughout the game and when things turned our way, we took it and ran with it. This was an awesome team win, that’s really what this was.”

Twitter: @cmccosky