DETROIT -- Stop me if you're heard this one: Justin Verlander and Chris Sale will walk onto a mound with the American League Central race in the balance, as the Tigers are just one game behind the White Sox.
If that sounds familiar, so should this: The Tigers' offense has seemingly awakened from its uncharacteristic slumber.
With one crushing swing from Prince Fielder for a three-run homer in the seventh inning on Wednesday, Detroit turned what had been another pitching duel into what looked like a runaway lead. They ended up needing all of those runs and two more to hold off a late White Sox rally for an 8-6 win, turning Thursday's Verlander-Sale rematch from a week and a half ago into another pendulum moment for the division race.
Verlander will try to continue the dominant run of starting pitching the Tigers have received this series, including six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts from Max Scherzer (16-6) on Wednesday. Not until Wednesday, however, did they finally add the offensive outburst to go with it.
Hours earlier, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski used the terms "very inconsistent," "bewildering" and "streaky" to describe his club's offense. But he also used some comparisons from his previous front-office stops to describe what can happen to bewilderingly inconsistent offensive clubs.
"I've been with very good hitting clubs that have gone through stretches in which they haven't swung the bats very well, and all of a sudden, they come busting out," Dombrowski said. "I've been with some clubs in Montreal and Florida -- and I'm talking clubs with some Hall of Fame hitters on them -- and they're not scoring runs for a lengthy period and all of a sudden, boom, here they come. And that's what's so interesting about the game, because all of a sudden, you just never know when.
"It may be tonight. It might have been last night that starts it. It might not be. I don't know. You just don't know. But I know we're a better offensive club."
The Tigers looked helpless for four innings against Jake Peavy on Tuesday before two fifth-inning homers lifted a weight off them. Their game turned with a three-run fifth on Wednesday after four outstanding innings from Gavin Floyd, who fanned half of the first 14 hitters he faced in his first start back from the disabled list. This time their game turned on small ball.
Detroit had fallen behind, 1-0, when Kevin Youkilis turned on a Scherzer slider in the fourth. Once Brennan Boesch, previously 0-for-18 off Floyd, led off with a single and advanced on Jhonny Peralta's walk, manager Jim Leyland made the decision to try to manufacture something out of it from a bottom third of the lineup that has done little.
"I don't want a double play or a strikeout," Leyland said. "I'm trying to come out of that inning with something to get us on the board to at least tie the game. I felt that was important."
Alex Avila, 2-for-19 off Floyd at that point, laid down a slow bunt toward third that left Youkilis with no option but to throw to first base. Omar Infante hit the next pitch to short, allowing Boesch to score and Peralta to take third.
It wasn't a big inning, but it was production from an unproductive segment of the lineup, and it reset the order with a runner still on. Austin Jackson's ensuing single put Detroit in front and chased Floyd from the game. Andy Dirks' two-out walk extended the inning for another RBI single from Miguel Cabrera.
The White Sox have a deep bullpen, but not necessarily one conducive to eating innings. To knock out Floyd before the end of the fifth made a difference in the seventh, Hector Santiago's third inning of work.
With the game still manageable at 3-1, White Sox manager Robin Ventura went to the matchup portion of his relief corps for the middle of the Tigers' order, a tactic that had worked the first two games. But Brian Omogrosso couldn't retire Cabrera, giving up a two-out single to bring up Fielder.
Ventura had used Donnie Veal, who has yet to allow a base hit to a lefty this season, to retire Fielder the last two nights. On Wednesday he went to fellow southpaw Leyson Septimo to do the same.
"One of the biggest things about September baseball," Leyland said before the game, "is that a left-handed hitter had better be able to get a hit off a left-handed pitcher, and a right-handed hitter off a right-handed pitcher."
Once Septimo fell behind, 3-1, Fielder got his hit, ending an 0-for-18 slump. Septimo decided not to walk him with first base open, and instead challenged him, and Fielder made him pay with a drive to right for his 26th home run of the year.
"It's not something that I'm not used to," Fielder said. "They've been bringing a lefty in since I've been playing. It's part of the game."
By then Scherzer had taken Detroit's two-run lead and carried it into the late innings. It wasn't his usual high-strikeout effort; he fanned five his first turn through the lineup before striking out just two more from there. However, he didn't issue any free passes, going without a walk for his second straight outing despite a handful of full counts.
Two more runs in the eighth gave the Tigers their largest run total since Aug. 28. Youkilis' second homer of the night, this time a three-run shot, brought the White Sox back before Jose Valverde worked the ninth for his 30th save.