CHICAGO -- From Jake Peavy's perspective, a one-out, Omar Infante ground single to left in the fifth inning of Detroit's 5-3 victory over the White Sox spelled the difference in Tuesday's contest played before 26,504 at U.S. Cellular Field.
It didn't hurt the Tigers' cause that Austin Jackson and Miguel Cabrera followed with homers to erase a two-run White Sox lead. But there were a few more moments later in the game that had a direct effect on the White Sox (77-64) falling to 1-8 in their last nine games against the Tigers (74-67) and watching their American League Central lead drop back to two games.
The worst part of Tuesday's scenario is that the Tigers send Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, two of the American League's top starters, to the mound in the final two contests of this four-game series. That pair of aces will try to trump a White Sox full house.
"A lot of work cut out for us with [Scherzer and Verlander]," said Peavy, after watching his ERA jump to 5.45 in six career home starts against the Tigers. "We haven't played extremely well against them. If we had half the time, we'd have a nice lead here."
"It's going to be tough, but going down the stretch here, every game is going to mean something," said White Sox left fielder Dewayne Wise, who homered in the first for one of just two hits against Detroit starter Doug Fister. "We just have to go out there and not try to do too much and just stay focused and have fun. Go out there and play ball."
Even after the Tigers grabbed control behind Jackson's 14th homer and Cabrera's 418-foot blast for his 36th long ball, the White Sox had chances. The game stood at 3-2 after seven when left-handed reliever Donnie Veal retired Prince Fielder on a line drive to second baseman Gordon Beckham with the bases loaded and one out and Brett Myers induced a fielder's choice grounder from Delmon Young.
That one-run advantage grew to three in the eighth when Robin Ventura called for Francisco Liriano to start the inning. Twenty-five of the struggling southpaw's 31 appearances have come as a starter this season, so using Liriano instead of Matt Thornton seemed like an interesting call in such a tight game. The move backfired as Liriano hit pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia and then gave up singles to Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila to score a run. Liriano gave way to Jesse Crain at that point.
"You try to get him in there and one blooped in there," said Ventura of his decision to use Liriano, referring to Peralta's ball that fell just in front of center fielder Alejandro De Aza. "That got them first and third and made it a different situation. If we come up with that, it could be different, but he's going to continue to battle."
Joaquin Benoit started the eighth in place of Fister (9-8), which was the best news of the night for the White Sox. Fister struck out six, walked two and retired the last 14 he faced in his seven innings.
"He did a good job of throwing every pitch," said Beckham, whose 15th homer in the third inning was the second and last hit off Fister. "He's got a good sinker obviously in, and a pretty good cutter away. So he kinda keeps you off balance. Throw in a big curveball and changeup, he's solid."
"Peavy pitched good. Fister pitched better tonight," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "We got a couple long balls that picked us up. It was just a good ballgame, two good teams going at it."
Benoit gave the White Sox a chance when Alexei Ramirez, Beckham and De Aza opened the eighth with consecutive singles, cutting the lead to two. Kevin Youkilis, who is 5-for-65 against the Tigers this year and has no sacrifice bunts during his nine-year career, was asked to sacrifice the tying runs over, but he fouled off the first attempt and then missed on the second. Youkilis struck out on the third pitch, as did Wise, and Paul Konerko's grounder to Infante ended the inning.
Jose Valverde pitched a scoreless ninth for his 29th save, leaving the White Sox to wonder what might have been in the eighth.
"We're trying to tie it up and we're trying to move them into scoring position and it just didn't happen," said Ventura of Youkilis' failed bunt. "We didn't execute it very well."
Over 5 2/3 innings, Peavy gave up three runs on six hits to go with nine strikeouts and two walks. He had very good stuff, as evidenced by the large number of foul balls and the swings and misses, but that good stuff also drove his pitch count up to 117.
Tuesday's setback dropped Peavy to 1-4 with a 4.03 ERA over his last seven starts. It was one that felt like it got away from the White Sox, but it also could be classified as just another round in this fight for the AL Central crown.
"Last night, we got a huge hit in a big-time situation," Peavy said. "Tonight, we had our chances, really one chance. They capitalized on their chances late, we didn't. A tit-for-tat game that didn't go our way tonight."
"Anytime you win a game, it's obviously huge, particularly this time of year," Leyland said. "But I'll say the same thing I've always said: Momentum is tomorrow's starting pitchers. Whoever pitches the best probably will win the game."