CHICAGO -- Miguel Cabrera realized three batters into Friday's White Sox home opener that the batter's box at U.S. Cellular Field was too far forward. By game's end, the Tigers' fate had come down to inches everywhere else.
It was the distance that Paul Konerko covered sliding home on a close play at the plate under Alex Avila's tag. It was the distance by which Dayan Viciedo corralled Andy Dirks' line drive toward the left-field line. The two plays, plus 6 2/3 innings of stellar pitching from Jake Peavy, nullified 11 strikeouts from Max Scherzer in a 5-2 Detroit loss at U.S. Cellular Field.
On most days, Detroit's offense has the firepower to turn an outing like Scherzer's six innings into a win. When Peavy is on his game, however, he has been brutal for the Tigers to hit. They finally got him for a Delmon Young two-run homer in the seventh, but they still needed one more tally.
They came awfully close twice, which could've changed the strategy of an eighth inning in which the White Sox tacked on a pair of add-on runs off Daniel Schlereth and Brayan Villarreal.
When Peavy was healthy in 2009, he put up 15 scoreless innings on the Tigers over the season's final couple of weeks, comprising two of his three wins after his July trade from San Diego. When he was trying to get back to form last year, the Tigers pounced on him for 10 runs over as many innings.
The 2009 Tigers lineup was a far cry from last year's version. The 2012 lineup is better than last year. Peavy made it look punchless until Young's homer, striking out eight of Detroit's first 19 batters.
"He threw the ball as good as I've seen when I've faced him," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said.
Young hit six home runs in Spring Training, but hadn't sent a ball out in the regular season until he turned on a Peavy curveball and sent it down the left-field line for a two-out blast. It was just the second hit off Peavy, and it chased him from the game.
"That's a great lineup and a great team," Peavy said. "You guys saw that as the game progressed."
Avila's single off lefty Will Ohman and Jhonny Peralta's double over Brent Morel at third base put the Tigers within a hit of the lead against rookie reliever Addison Reed. They nearly got it from Dirks, who sent a sharp liner to left.
Manager Jim Leyland's first instinct was that he had the hit he needed. Then he saw the path.
"The ball didn't curve on him," Leyland said. "Usually when a left-hander hits a ball like that, it slices away. But that ball, for whatever reason, just stayed pretty much straight."
That gave Viciedo a chance. He took a handful of steps and stretched out for a diving catch.
The Tigers mounted another rally in the eighth, but Matt Thornton escaped when Alexei Ramirez made a sliding stop on Cabrera's grounder up the middle to start an inning-ending double-play as Prince Fielder waited on deck.
Viciedo was arguably worth three runs in the game, stealing two with his catch after scoring the game's first run on a fifth-inning homer. Scherzer was nearly unhittable at that point, having retired nine straight batters and striking out eight of Chicago's first 13 hitters.
"The home run, it's a 1-0 slider," he said. "I wanted it more down, but sometimes you've just got to live with that. You're going to give up home runs here. It's the other ones that you want to execute better."
The other ones came in the next inning after he lost Alejandro De Aza to a leadoff walk. Morel's sacrifice bunt moved De Aza into position to score on Konerko's single before A.J. Pierzynski sent a liner into the right-field corner.
The 36-year-old Konerko chugged his way around third as Brennan Boesch threw the ball back in. Avila scooped Ryan Raburn's relay and whirled to try to tag Konerko as he was sliding in. Home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson's safe call brought a rare argument for Avila.
"I thought he was out. I thought we got him," Avila said. "I haven't looked at the replay, but at this point, there's no reason to. He was safe. But I thought we got him. That's why I reacted that way."
Scherzer did see the replay. He thought Konerko was out.
"It's a close play," said Scherzer. "[The umpire's] got a tough angle. I realize the job is tough. Obviously you look at replay, and it showed something different. But that's baseball. It was a bang-bang play, but obviously you want those calls to go your way."
Other than the batter's box, the inches weren't going their way Friday.