Chicago — The Tigers Tuesday night did something they haven’t done often enough this season. They built themselves a deep, comfy, early cushion and enjoyed a bit of a cruise -- beating the White Sox 8-3.
"Yeah, that's what you're trying to do," said left fielder Mikie Mahtook. "You're not out there hanging on every pitch, every out. We put some runs on the board early and we were able to keep the pressure on them and add on later."
A five-run second inning was the killing blow, and it was keyed by some of the Tigers' young blood. Grayson Greiner and Dawel Lugo each produced two-run doubles in the second inning.
Mahtook, who has been in some kind of groove the last few weeks, hit his sixth home run since Aug. 16, a two-run shot in the eighth. In 16 games since Aug. 16, Mahtook has hit all six of his home runs, driven in 14 and raised his batting average 33 points.
"The swing is getting back to where it's supposed to be," Mahtook said. "At this point, it's about picking out pitches I want to hit and try not to think too much at the plate. I am happy with what's going on, but you want to continue moving forward.
"You don't want to start feeling settled or comfortable with where you are at."
It was the wily, old veteran, though, that got the party started in that second inning.
Victor Martinez set the tone with a gritty, 11-pitch at-bat against White Sox starter Lucas Giolito, whom they were facing for the fifth time this season. Martinez fouled off five pitches after getting two strikes. Then he lined a single to center.
"It was a big at-bat," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He fouled off some tough pitches. He's been doing it all year for us — he just gives us quality at-bat after quality at-bat. He set the tone for us and you hope the young guys were paying attention."
Niko Goodrum followed with a single and Mahtook worked a walk to load the bases with nobody out.
This has not been a productive scenario for the Tigers. Before Tuesday, they ranked 12th in the American League with a .216 batting average with the bases loaded and were ninth with 72 RBIs.
But this time Greiner, on a 1-2 pitch, slapped a double into the right-center field gap to score two runs. Lugo followed one batter later with a two-run double of his own and the Tigers were off and running.
"With the bases loaded and nobody out, you don't want to get yourself to hit a ground ball," said Greiner, who is normally an ultra-aggressive hitter. "I'm not the fastest guy in the world and they'd probably turn two.
"I was looking for something I could hit in the air. And when I got two strikes, I was just looking for something to get the bat on the ball. I was able to wait back just long enough on a slider to put the barrel on it."
Lugo, who had two doubles in the game, hit his with an exit velocity of 104.5 mph.
"That ball he drove to center field, he killed that ball," Gardenhire said. "The ball made a different sound off his bat than we've seen since we brought him up."
Lugo is hitting .375 in 24 at-bats.
"Maybe being in the big leagues has fired him up," Gardenhire said. "Hopefully, he doesn't get too comfortable and start slacking off."
Greiner knocked in the Tigers’ sixth run in the third inning with a two-out single. He was given a second life in the at-bat after White Sox catcher Kevan Smith dropped his foul pop-up. Goodrum, who scored the run, walked and stole second base.
"Hitting is hard," Greiner said. "So if you get two chances, you can't turn it down."
Tigers starter Francisco Liriano, though he gave back three runs in the fourth innings, gave the Tigers five solid innings.
"Early he was pounding the strike zone and then in the fourth inning, he got out of whack," Gardenhire said. "He started getting behind in the count and that's when you started to see guys running around the bases.
"But he regrouped and got us through five innings, which was huge for us."
After posting three scoreless innings, even striking out the side in the third, he walked the first batter in the fourth on four pitches.
"Even going back to yesterday, they were swinging at the first pitch," Liriano said. "I thought they were going to swing at the first pitch, so I was being too fine to the plate instead of throwing strikes and letting them put it in play."
Still, it was a step forward for Liriano, and his first win since April 28.
"I felt good with my change-up and I was better locating my fastball," he said. "I made some better pitches tonight than I had in my last start. I felt better today. Everything is moving forward."
The Tigers bullpen locked it down with four scoreless, one-hit innings.
Rookie Sandy Baez, who worked four hitless innings in his big-league debut back in June, held the White Sox in check in the sixth and seventh, allowing only one single. His fastball was sitting at 95 mph and touched 98.
Joe Jimenez (two strikeouts in a clean eighth) and Alex Wilson (clean ninth) closed it out.
"Those young guys," Gardenhire said, "they are fun to watch."
They were on this night.