Detroit — The starch got taken out of this one quickly.
After splitting a pair of tense, extra-inning games, the White Sox drained the drama with a five-run fifth inning and beat the Tigers, 11-5, Sunday to take the series and keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They are 3½ games behind Central Division-leading Cleveland.
“It was a lack of execution across the board with most of our pitchers today,” manager AJ Hinch said. “And obviously, offensively we didn’t execute, either. You miss on both sides of that against anyone at this level and you are going to have a long game.”
Andrew Vaughn delivered the kill shot. He capped the five-run inning with his first career grand slam, driving a 1-2 slider from reliever Jason Foley 418 feet, clearing the visitor’s bullpen in left field.
It was one of three tape-measure shots the White Sox drove out of Comerica Park. AJ Pollock hit a 421-foot blast to left-center in the second inning. And in the seventh, Eloy Jimenez destroyed a hanging changeup from reliever Garrett Hill, sending it 450 feet to left-center.
The ball caromed high off the left-center field bricks near the flagpole and fell into the bushes.
Jimenez had a day. He produced three hits, walked, knocked in three runs and scored twice.
“It was walk, then homer, walk, then homer,” said Hinch, referencing that of the four walks issued by the Tigers, three scored. “Putting guys on base in front of dangerous hitters is a bad recipe.”
It was a 2-2 game entering the fifth and starter Drew Hutchison had just dispatched the White Sox on seven pitches in the fourth. But things unraveled quickly.
After one-out singles by Elvis Andrus and Yoan Moncada, Hutchison got Jose Abreu to line out to right field for the second out. But he locked in too much on right-handed hitting Jimenez and didn’t bother to check on the runners.
They stole third and second without a throw.
“Two outs, I was just trying to finish that at-bat,” Hutchison said. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t put him away.”
Hutchison walked Jimenez to load the bases and walked left-handed hitting Gavin Sheets to force in the go-ahead run.
“You can’t do that in this league,” Hutchison said. “I thought I was in a good rhythm until then. But for whatever reason I lost it a little bit right there.”
He was at 81 pitches at that point and Hinch summoned Foley.
“I think Drew lost the margins of the strike zone a little bit,” Hinch said. “And he didn’t want to concede. There’s a lot of damage that can be done at that point, especially with the Sheets at-bat.
“Yeah, throw it middle-middle, that sounds really good when we need to throw a strike, until they put it in play. There is a fine line between pitching aggressively and also giving yourself a chance to get out of the inning.”
Foley, who allowed a two-run single in the seventh inning Saturday night, left a 1-2 slider up and over the heart of the plate to Vaughn. It did not stay in the yard.
Hill was victimized by a walk, two singles and the monster blast by Jimenez in the seventh. He had looked dominant, striking out two in a scoreless sixth inning.
“He was explosive at the beginning, but once he got into the stretch, it was a little different,” Hinch said.
It was Hill’s second outing using a new, hands-over-the-head windup. It has helped the velocity spike to 96-97 mph. But working out of the stretch, the velocity dropped to 92-93.
“He’s learning,” Hinch said. “This is a different role. He’s not going to have four or five days off every time that he pitches out of the bullpen. I wouldn’t mind giving him an inherited runner or maybe getting him a shorter stint. But we’re running out of games.
“I still want him to be considered a starter, but there is some intrigue on how he enters the game.”
Willi Castro had given the Tigers a short-lived 2-1 lead in the first inning, golfing a two-run home run off White Sox spot starter Vince Velasquez.
Javier Báez had two hits, including his 14th homer of the season, which came in the eighth inning off lefty Tanner Banks.
After the game, Hinch announced that Kody Clemens had been optioned to Triple-A Toledo and will finish the season there. The move was made to clear a spot for Miguel Cabrera, who will return off the injured list Monday in Baltimore.