DETROIT -- A sellout crowd of 42,888 at Comerica Park rose to its feet as Rick Porcello ventured back to the mound for the ninth inning on Saturday. The 23-year-old right-hander was not only on the verge of giving the Tigers sole possession of first place in the American League Central, but also earning his first career complete game.
"That was the first time," said Porcello of the crowd's standing ovation for his walk to the mound. "I was pretty surprised by that, and it was awesome. It was a really good feeling. I got pretty excited when everyone was cheering."
Porcello didn't earn the complete game -- he allowed back-to-back singles and was hooked by manager Jim Leyland -- but his eight-plus innings of five-hit, one-run ball proved enough to give Detroit a 7-1 win over the White Sox and its first division lead since May 1.
Like any pitcher, Porcello of course wanted to finish what he started. He had thrown a manageable 88 pitches entering the final inning, but Leyland said that after watching Atlanta overcome a nine-run deficit against Washington on Friday, he wasn't taking chances with runners on first and second.
"I thought he deserved that opportunity, and he had some quick outs and pretty easy innings," Leyland said. "I was hoping he'd get the complete game, but you can't mess around in this league."
To the Detroit fans, it was slightly disappointing. To Porcello, a win is the most important thing, especially when it comes against a division rival.
"Personally, you want to go the distance; that's a big thing for a pitcher, and that's a hard thing to do," Porcello said. "To be able to throw a complete game would be nice, but we got the win and I'm pretty happy about that, too."
After what was viewed as a disappointing start to the season, the Tigers have rebounded to win 12 of their past 14 games. They are 7-2 since returning from the All-Star break and have won four straight.
The win marks the first time the Tigers have sat alone atop the AL Central since April 22. And they've gotten back to that spot with excellent pitching and clutch hitting.
Max Scherzer, Doug Fister and Justin Verlander combined to allow nine hits and three runs in 23 innings over the previous three games. And entering the contest, the offense had scored 28 of its 41 runs since the All-Star break with two outs.
Saturday was no different.
All of Detroit's runs in Friday's 4-2 series-opening win came with two outs, as did the club's seven runs on Saturday.
White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, who entered the game with an 11-2 record and leading the AL with a 2.11 ERA, had matched Porcello nearly pitch for pitch until the fifth inning. Back-to-back two-out singles resulted in a two-run double for Austin Jackson.
And a two-out, three-run home run in the sixth by Brennan Boesch gave Detroit a four-run lead.
"Those are backbreakers," Leyland said. "It looks like he might get out if it, takes a little sigh of relief, and bang -- somebody hits a double, somebody hits a two-out single. Those are golden."
Jackson added two more RBIs in the eighth, but on Saturday, a one-run lead would be all Porcello required. He had three tough acts to follow but matched his teammates and perhaps did one better, outdueling one of the AL's best pitchers in Sale.
Porcello was perfect through four innings, holding the White Sox without a baserunner before Paul Konerko singled in the fifth. The right-hander allowed the game's first run but retired nine of the next 10 White Sox hitters.
"Porcello was as good an anybody we've seen this year," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
The series concludes on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET, when the Tigers will look to extend their division lead while the White Sox hope to snap a four-game skid.
It was one year ago Saturday that the Tigers took the AL Central lead with a win over the Twins and never looked back, proceeding to win the division by 15 games. Neither the Tigers nor White Sox are expecting history to repeat itself.
"We've still got a lot of work to do," Porcello said. "This isn't over yet. It's just getting started."
Anthony Odoardi is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.