Detroit Tigers rookie reliever Alex Lange didn't mean to do it.
"Obviously, I'm not trying to hit a guy in the ninth inning and down by one run after we just put five (runs)," Lange said after Monday's 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. "That's not any way to come into a game. There's no beef. It happens. It's baseball. ... It wasn't intentional."
Following a five-run eighth inning, cutting the deficit to one run, Tigers manager AJ Hinch called Lange out of the bullpen for the top of the ninth. Slugger Jose Abreu — poised to lead his team on a deep postseason run — stepped to the plate with one out.
Minutes later, the teams were involved in a flurry of activities, highlighted by the benches and bullpens clearing. The Tigers and White Sox didn't throw any punches, but there was plenty of posturing and pushing from both sides behind second base.
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"Everything just got elevated," Hinch said. "Luckily, calmer heads prevailed in that whole deal. We had emotion, everybody pushing and shoving a little bit, but we got off the field and back to baseball."
Lange got ahead 0-2 in the count, throwing back-to-back fastballs that Abreu could only foul away. The third pitch in the plate appearance, a 97 mph fastball, drilled Abreu in the elbow.
Back in the eighth inning, Tigers rookie Isaac Paredes was hit in the hand by an 88 mph sinker from White Sox reliever Mike Wright. He stayed in the game and eventually scored as part of the comeback push.
"I don't think they hit us on purpose," Hinch said. "I don't think we hit them on purpose. You don't see that a lot anymore, but I think emotions just boiled over."
Once Lange reached two strikes against Abreu, the 25-year-old thought about his pregame preparation.
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Abreu, the reigning American League MVP, is one of the most feared hitters in baseball. He has a .264 batting average, 29 home runs and 113 RBIs this season.
"First-pitch fastball down and away, foul ball," Lange said. "Second-pitch fastball down and away, foul ball. He's leaning out over the plate. He sees I'm working away. Our report says that we finish him up and in, so that's where I was going. ... I'm pitching to my report. I'm going in, and I'm trying to get him out."
Benches clear in the White Sox-Tigers game after José Abreu slid hard into Niko Goodrum at second base
This happened right after Abreu got hit by a pitch and Chicago's bench coach Miguel Cairo was ejected for shouting from the dugout pic.twitter.com/ZGMHxEJXLI
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Abreu has been hit by 21 pitches this season, the fifth-most in MLB. The Tigers, however, haven't hit him with a pitch since Spencer Turnbull — who, like Lange, is known for command troubles at times — drilled him twice on Sept. 29, 2019.
"I'll say what I have to say to the appropriate people. But this is not the appropriate time or people," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said. "It seems (the Tigers) have issues when someone plays aggressively but not when they pitch aggressively and beyond the limits. The game is played two ways, not just one way."
The intensity increased one pitch later.
On Lange's first pitch to Yasmani Grandal, he tossed a slider in the dirt. The ball skipped off Haase's glove and chest, rolling toward the Tigers' dugout. The catcher pounced up, gripped the baseball and threw it to shortstop Niko Goodrum.
Haase reacted this way because Abreu was trying to steal second base. (He only has one stolen-base attempt this season.) The Tigers caught Abreu stealing, but he slid aggressively into second base. Hinch called Abreu's decision "a little old school."
Upon standing up, Abreu got in Goodrum's face. Meanwhile, Goodrum put his hands in the air.
Moments later, both teams were on the field.
"That used to be how you took care of it," Hinch said. "You used to run to second base, and if anybody got in your way, you took a hard, aggressive life, which he did."
White Sox starter Dallas Keuchel, who played for Hinch with the Houston Astros, gave his thoughts on the slide: "I thought the slide was hard at second base but it was a good slide. Now, any time somebody slides hard into second base it's always taken into consideration. But he was trying to steal second base and there was no ill intent on that as well."
White Sox bench coach Miguel Cairo was ejected because of his apparent comments toward Lange and Hinch, as other members of Chicago's coaching staff were also jawing at the Tigers' manager and relief pitcher.
"They were yelling at Lange," Hinch said. "I'm going to stand up for my player. You can fix your own players. I'll manage my team. That's all I was mad about. There's no reason to bark at Lange. You can bark at me or you can bark at the umpire. That was really the exchange between the two dugouts."
"I don't think I should repeat anything that was being said out there," Lange added. "They thought it was bush (league). I don't understand how they thought that was malicious or had intent behind it. I appreciate AJ having my back. It just goes to show that everybody on this team has got each other's back. We're going to stick together, and we're going to fight together. I'm happy with this team."
As the rest of his teammates filtered into the clubhouse, 38-year-old Miguel Cabrera — a 19-year MLB veteran — stood on the first step of the dugout stairs leading to the field. He stared down players and coaches from the White Sox.
The two teams meet again Oct. 1 at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago for a three-game series to wrap up the regular season.
"I'm not here to spark a rivalry or whatever," Lange said. "It was unintentional. It is what it is. It happens. It's baseball. I'm allowed to pitch in. I wasn't headhunting. There was nothing malicious about it. I was just playing the game."
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox clash: 'It wasn't intentional'