CHICAGO -- Combine all the breaks -- first Detroit's way, then the other -- and Monday's Tigers-White Sox clash had the feel of a game of chance. And then, it was a game for Chance.
Welcome to the Majors, Chance Ruffin. The 6-3 Tigers loss won't be a result he wants to remember, but the situation will be one he and plenty others won't soon forget.
"Major League debut in middle of a pennant race, bases loaded and [Carlos] Quentin's up," catcher Alex Avila said with a smile. "Good luck."
From a dropped fly ball, to a bloop single that should've been caught, from an extra step on a double play to a missed chance at a pickoff, it took a lot to bring the game to that point.
All that was far out of Ruffin's mind as he stared at Quentin at the plate with two outs and the bases packed in a tie game. He just wanted to focus on what was right in front of him.
"It's a high-pressure situation," said Ruffin, who was called up from Triple-A on Sunday night to help stabilize the club's middle relief. "It's fun to be in. You just want to be that guy to come up with the big out. Just didn't happen for me on that one."
The stuff Ruffin showed reflected the potential the Tigers saw in him. The resulting go-ahead, two-run double from Quentin reflected the way the game was going to go the rest of the way, from manager Jim Leyland's ejection at the end of the inning to the game-tying chance squandered in the seventh.
The loss whittled Detroit's lead atop the American League Central to a game over Cleveland, which beat the Angels. Chicago's fourth straight win moved the Sox to within 3 1/2 games, with the .500 mark a win away. After gaining ground on the Indians last weekend thanks to two White Sox wins, Monday was the Tigers' turn to feel how that felt.
"You don't have to look up at the scoreboard and see what they are doing anywhere else," White Sox All-Star Paul Konerko said. "But regardless of what happens in this series, you still have a full third of the season left. It's not like anybody is going to be breaking out champagne bottles either way."
To Avila, at least, it felt like a game that turned against them in a hurry.
"It seemed like we were catching all the breaks and then it just kind of flip-flopped," Avila said. "That's baseball."
That didn't appear likely early, once the misplays helped Detroit moved ahead. White Sox starter Mark Buehrle seemed set to complete a third scoreless inning despite Magglio Ordonez's two-out single. Buehrle induced a popup into shallow center field from Miguel Cabrera, but second baseman Gordon Beckham couldn't complete an over-the-shoulder catch, allowing Victor Martinez to step to the plate with two on.
Martinez, 23-for-69 (.333) with 12 RBIs off Buehrle entering the night, delivered on the first pitch, lining an RBI single into right-center field. Jhonny Peralta followed with a fly ball that fell between shortstop Alexei Ramirez -- who stopped on the play -- left fielder Juan Pierre and center fielder Alex Rios, allowing Cabrera to score.
Ryan Raburn's drive to center field died at the warning track, stranding the bases loaded, but Duane Below had a lead with which to work.
For four-plus innings, it looked like he had the stuff to protect it. Though Brent Morel's one-out single in the bottom of the inning put the tying run on, the Tigers seemed set to beat it once Cabrera fielded Pierre's grounder and tried to start a double play. But Pierre barely beat out the return throw to bring up Ramirez.
A couple pitches later, Below seemed to have Pierre caught too far off first base. Below quickly fired, but with the grip he had readied for his pitch.
"I had a cutter grip and threw it," he said. "I needed to make a better throw."
It was a missed chance, but a play Pierre forced with his speed. He made it to second without a throw. After a 2-2 fastball that just missed the outside corner, Ramirez ended up on first with a walk that Leyland disputed.
"I thought it was a pitch he was calling all night for both sides, really," Leyland said. "Jim [Wolf] is a very good umpire."
The Tigers intentionally walked Konerko to face slumping Adam Dunn, who has struggled mightily against lefties all year. But after putting Dunn in a 1-2 count, Below couldn't get a strike call on what looked like a pitch at the belt, and he walked.
"He located his fastball pretty good," Leyland said of Below (0-1), "but he couldn't get his breaking ball down tonight. He actually tried to overthrow a little bit to Dunn. But that's youth."
Enter more youth, with the right-hander Ruffin facing the right-handed-hitting Quentin. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time a pitcher made his Major League debut with the bases-loaded in a tie game since Brian Lawrence did it with the Padres on April 15, 2001 against the Dodgers.
Ruffin used back-to-back fastballs before overthrowing a 1-1 slider. Quentin took advantage with a line drive into the left-field corner. Solo homers from A.J. Pierzynski and Konerko in the seventh, both off Ruffin, padded the advantage.
"He's got a good arm," Leyland said of Ruffin. "We know he's got a good slider. He was probably overamped a little bit, tried to throw it too hard. It kind of stayed there. It really didn't dive. Kind of left it out a little bit and he hooked it."