DETROIT (AP) - After the eighth inning, the Comerica Park scoreboard greeted J.D. Martinez with a highlight reel set to the theme song from "Welcome Back, Kotter."
The party was already well underway Wednesday night.
Martinez hadn't played since fracturing his elbow June 16, but he pinch-hit in the eighth inning and hit Chris Sale's first pitch into the shrubs above the centerfield fence to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
"I saw the pitch coming and it looked nice and slow, and I just knew," he said.
The homer turned out to be the winning run as Detroit won its eighth straight and moved within two games of first-place Cleveland in the AL Central.
"That was like a movie," Detroit infielder Ian Kinsler said. "That was something I've never seen before. It is certainly good to have him back."
Martinez received a long standing ovation when he made his way to the plate to hit for James McCann, and it only got louder as he launched Sale's fastball an estimated 434 feet.
"That was probably the coolest moment of my career," he said. "I tried to go up there with a plan, but it was so crazy that I just decided to see the ball and hit the ball."
The crowd of 32,526 roared again during the musical tribute until Martinez took a curtain call.
"If I could thank every fan individually, I would," he said. "I didn't know what to do. I wasn't expecting any of that."
Sale said he approached Martinez the same way he would had he been playing every day.
"Nothing different at all," he said. "I haven't looked at it again, but I thought it was a good pitch, but he's a great hitter and they do things to win games. That's what J.D. did to me."
The White Sox put their first two runners on against Rodriguez in the ninth, and Melky Cabrera moved to third on Justin Morneau's fly out. Rodriguez struck out Todd Frazier, but walked Avisail Garcia to load the bases. Dioner Navarro grounded out to second to end the game.
"I knew he was going to be throwing changeups, and I wanted to get a good pitch to hit," Navarro said. "I was just too anxious and got ahead of it."
Sale (14-5) took the loss, allowing two runs on six hits in an eight-inning complete game. He walked one and struck out 10.
"That's about as sharp as he's looked all season," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "They got one run with a slice down the line, and the other one, you just tip your hat to J.D."
Shane Greene (2-2) got the win after pitching out of a seventh-inning jam, while Rodriguez picked up his 30th save.
Rookie Michael Fulmer allowed one run on five hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Sale was making his first start against the Tigers since being a late scratch on July 23 - the night he cut up the team's throwback jerseys.
Fulmer and Sale dueled early, although the rookie was aided by Chicago hitting into three double plays in the first four innings.
The Tigers finally broke through in the fourth. Miguel Cabrera led off with a double, Victor Martinez walked and Nick Castellanos hit an RBI double down the right-field line. Sale struck out Justin Upton, and Mike Aviles hit a foul pop down the first-base line. Jose Abreu made a running catch, then turned and easily threw out Victor Martinez at the plate.
Fulmer kept rolling until the sixth, when Morneau tied the game with a long two-out homer to right-center. Morneau has hit two of his three homers this season off Fulmer.
Frazier walked on four pitches and Fulmer hit Garcia, bringing Greene out of the Tigers bullpen to end the rally. Frazier and Garcia were the 10th and 11th runners inherited by Greene this season, with none having scored.
White Sox: OF Charlie Tilson will miss the rest of the season after tearing his hamstring during his major-league debut Tuesday. Tilson is the third White Sox rookie this season to leave his first game with an injury, joining OF Jason Coats and 3B Matt Davidson. C Kevan Smith injured himself warming up for his first game, and ended up on the disabled list before playing.
Tigers: Martinez was officially activated from the disabled list after missing seven weeks with a fractured elbow. Martinez didn't start Wednesday — Brad Ausmus rested him after playing a doubleheader with Triple-A Toledo — but is expected to start on Thursday. RHP Jordan Zimmermann (neck) will be activated Thursday to start against the White Sox.
ROUND NUMBER FOR K-ROD
Rodriguez became the 24th pitcher to reach 900 career games with his appearance in the ninth inning. With LaTroy Hawkins retiring after last season, Rodriguez leads all active players in games pitched.
The teams finish their three-game series Wednesday afternoon with Zimmerman (9-4, 3.95) facing Jose Quintana (8-8, 2.89).