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Chris Sale denies accusing Victor Martinez of stealing signs

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White Sox lefty Chris Sale thought Victor Martinez was stealing signs with some help in center field. The benches cleared, immediately sparking the Tigers' offense and knocking Sale out of the game.

Duane Burleson

DETROIT — It was one of the more bizarre events of the season. Chris Sale made it obvious he thought the Tigers were stealing signs from the White Sox. More specifically, Victor Martinez. On more than one occasion Sale pointed or motioned in the direction of center field, and in the sixth inning Sale drilled Martinez on the first pitch that set a series of events in motion.

As Martinez walked to first base, Sale shouted in his direction, pointing toward center field and prompting a clearing of the benches and the respective bullpens. Martinez, who continued to walk to first base, attempted to ignore Sale after a long look in his direction and shrugged once he took first base, unsure of what Sale was talking about. The rest of the team was equally confused, until the Tigers were told by the White Sox in the obligatory shuffle that Sale suspected Martinez was getting signs from someone with binoculars in center field.

"Avisail Garcia came down from right field and I was like, 'What's wrong with him?'" Martinez said. "(Garcia said) He (Sale) was saying 'you've got somebody behind that is giving you signs.' I was like, 'Pfff, you've got to be kidding me.' I mean, you have to be kidding me."

Considering Martinez has been hitting in the .330's all season, it's one of the strangest claims made, particularly by Sale, who has been lights-out all season. It was also a dangerous situation for the Tigers. Had Martinez been hurt by the pitch, it could have had a serious impact on the team in the playoffs, should the Tigers make it. Currently, the Tigers are one game away from clinching their fourth consecutive playoff spot for the first time in franchise history.

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Those in the Tigers clubhouse did not hide the fact they thought Sale's accusations were unfounded and absurd. Sale denied he threw a pitch at Martinez, stating that he was "just trying to pitch (Martinez) inside, and one got away." He also denied that he thought Martinez was attempting to steal signs or making pointed gestures in the direction of center field. The video, and the words of his own teammate, Garcia, however, contradict the validity of those claims.

"There was a fan that was just wearing me out in the bullpen before the game, telling me that I wasn't any good, and telling me how much Victor was going to hit me, so that was just having some fun with him," Sale said. "I was just throwing my arms up, like you do when you are upset. I wasn't really trying to control where they pointed."

Martinez's teammates were visibly upset on the field, including Max Scherzer and Ian Kinsler. For a pitcher who exhibited a large amount of control, striking out 10 Tigers batters and keeping them off-balance for six innings, missing that badly was more than just an accidental slip.

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After the game Tigers manager Brad Ausmus had harsh words for Sale, his words carrying an obvious note of frustration and anger about what transpired. It's as pointed as Ausmus has been nearly all season.

"To me it's a little bit ridiculous," Ausmus said. "I doubt Victor (Martinez) had a guy at U.S. Cellular Field with binoculars when he hit the home off him. I don't know if Victor has someone in every stadium. It's a little bit ludicrous to me that they would even make this claim, and I think it's a little weak that they would hit him. If they injure Victor there and we're in the playoff hunt, that's bad news. I mean, that just can't happen. He (Sale) clearly did it on purpose, he made it obvious. And quite frankly we can't retaliate, we can't even do anything about it. If there's warnings issued and we retaliate, now one of our guys gets suspended, that's a guy that can be suspended right into the playoffs. It was just weak on Sale's part."

After the dust of the sixth inning settled, some hilarity ensued. Sale was caught making a binocular sign in the dugout, to which Ian Kinsler responded spontaneously with one of his own towards Sale in the dugout when he hit an RBI double in the seventh inning. After the game Ausmus was asked about about Kinsler's response, to which he laughed and said that was the first he'd actually heard about it. Meanwhile, Sale continued to deny everything.

"I did? I don't remember that, but if I did, I was just goofing off and trying to keep things light in the dugout," Sale said. "It didn't mean anything."

Captured and immortalized on Twitter, the screenshots of Sale's and Kinsler's imitations started meme suggestions of "Binoctober" and "Binoculargate" since the Tigers scored all six runs after Martinez had been drilled. With October rapidly approaching, it was appropriately themed for a Tigers offense that has sat idle for days.

Whether the pitch was intentional or not, it gave the Tigers a boost of energy. Sale was finished after the sixth inning and the Tigers drove in six runs, firmly taking the series and sending the White Sox back to Chicago with a loss. Considering Sale and Justin Verlander were locked in a pitcher's duel, despite Sale's higher pitch count he was still pitching well and it could have been the difference in the game.

"I don't think it lights a fire or anything like that, but it definitely, definitely gives us some energy," Kinsler said. "There's no doubt about that. If someone's putting something on you that's a little ridiculous, a little far fetched — so, it definitely gave us some energy."