Chicago — Ron Gardenhire said it before the game. On warm nights like Friday night, the ball carries at Guaranteed Rate Field.
“You never feel safe,” he said.
Not for a single inning.
Starter Mike Fiers took a 3-0 lead into the sixth inning. Four batters and one long, majestic fly ball by White Sox catcher Omar Narvaez later, the game was tied.
But, as has been the Tigers’ way this year, they shrugged it off and found another way to win the game.
They manufactured a run out of a single and walk in the eighth inning to win their third straight, beating the White Sox, 4-3, in the first of a three-game set.
The winning run was delivered by the wheels of — John Hicks?
"I'm getting a little upset about people thinking I'm slow," said Hicks, who also contributed in his normal fashion, with a 396-foot home run. "I hit a triple yesterday. I showed I still have a little speed."
Hicks opened the eighth with a line-drive single to right off reliever Juan Minaya. Niko Goodrum walked.
Hicks smartly tagged and went to third on a fly out to right field by James McCann. Goodrum then stole second.
Victor Reyes, the Tigers’ Rule 5 rookie, hit a ground ball to first baseman Jose Abreu, who was playing in. Abreu bobbled the ball slightly, just long enough to allow Hicks to slide safely around the tag at the plate.
"We were going on contact," Hicks said. "I saw the ball down (on the ground) and took off. Abreu bobbled it a little; I might've been in trouble if he didn't. But I was able to get around the tag."
Hicks said he read the way Narvaez set up to take the throw.
"I knew with the throw coming from first base I was going to have to get around him," he said.
There was more drama, though. The White Sox loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the eighth against Alex Wilson. But Wilson got Charlie Tilson to hit a ground ball to first. Hicks threw home to force out the lead runner.
Then Wilson got Adam Engel to ground out softly to short.
"I don't like working that hard for those results," Wilson said with a smile. "A couple of infield singles, all weak contact. That's how this game works. You just have to battle and make pitches when it's crucial to do so.
"I was able to do that tonight."
Wilson worked the eighth because Gardenhire and pitching coach Chris Bosio had decided before the game not to use Joe Jimenez. He had worked the two previous games, as did closer Shane Greene, who pitched a scoreless ninth for his 18th save.
Had they used both Jimenez and Greene, they wouldn't have either one available for Saturday. Now, if need, Jimenez can close on Saturday.
"We'll make a decision (on Greene) tomorrow," Gardenhire said. "I know he'll be the first one in my office in the morning saying he's good to go."
The Tigers have won the last three games with late-inning rallies.
But go back to that sixth inning.
With one out and Fiers seemingly in control, Daniel Palka and Matt Davidson singled. Davidson earned his working a 10-pitch at-bat after falling behind 1-2. The next pitch Fiers threw, an 85-mph two-seamer to Narvaez, wound up flying over the right-field fence — game-tying three-run homer, his first since last September.
It was only the fifth two-seamer Fiers threw in 83 pitches.
"I have to do a better job there of keeping the ball in the park," Fiers said. "But as long as it was tied at that point and (reliever Louis) Coleman came in and got me out of that jam — we won the game and that's all that matters."
Fiers’ next pitch was his last.
He hit Tim Anderson square in the back with a 70-mph curveball. Anderson said something to Fiers on his way to first and catcher James McCann got in front of Anderson.
The White Sox players started spilling out of their dugout. But Gardenhire was quick to the mound and Fiers himself made it clear he had no malicious intent.
"It was very strange," Fiers said. "I don't think (Anderson) meant anything about it. It might've been some kind of joke he was trying to get across. There was no harm involved."
Said Gardenhire: "I don't think there was anything to it. I really think the kid was saying, 'I'm OK.' Mike didn't know what he was saying. He threw a slow curve and it hit him. There was nothing to it.
"I just walked out like, what are we doing here? A 70-mph curveball?"
Order was restored, though Fiers was booed lustily on his way off the field.
The Tigers scored three times in the first three innings off White Sox starter Reynaldo Lopez. That’s more earned runs than they mustered in two seven-inning starts against him earlier this season.
Hicks destroyed a 95-mph, 2-0 fastball in the second, sending his sixth home run of the season 396 feet over the right-center field fence.
In the third inning, Victor Martinez ripped a two-run double into the right-field corner. It was just his third extra-base hit (all doubles) in 86 plate appearances over 23 games.
The Tigers stranded four runners in scoring position between the second and fifth innings. McCann, who had three singles, was thrown out trying to steal home in the fourth.
With two out, Leonys Martin singled, sending McCann to third. Martin stole second. When Narvaez threw to second, McCann broke for home. Shortstop Anderson quickly got the ball back to Narvaez, well ahead of McCann’s slide.
"He wasn't supposed to go," Gardenhire said. "We knew we could steal second there. And Dave (Clark, third base coach) told him, 'You are staying.' But sometimes your heart says I can do this."
Gardenhire, even though it ended the inning, liked the aggressiveness of the play.
"The third baseman was playing way off the line," he said. "If Mac is going to do that, he's got to get way down the line. He wasn't. But if he was way down the line, I guarantee he scores."