A split was all the White Sox needed in this series to feel good about their chances.
But their chances of gaining a split just got a lot tougher.
Max Scherzer was dominant again and Detroit defeated the Sox 8-6 on the South Side Wednesday night, leaving only Chris Sale between the Tigers and another first-place tie in the A.L. Central.
The last time this occurred, Justin Verlander completed a sweep against Sale and the Sox, before the Tigers’ very predictable collapse against Cleveland and Los Angeles.
There’s little reason to think anything different even now about a Detroit squad that has yet to put it all together this season, so while Thursday’s rematch between the teams’ best pitchers may feel like the season depends on it, there’s no evidence to suggest it’s anywhere near that critical.
What it might just be is another fabulous matchup of two of the sport’s best pitchers in a meaningful September baseball game in Chicago.
“We’re gonna have to win games after (Thursday), too,’’ said Sox manager Robin Ventura. “Verlander’s a good pitcher. We’ll face more good pitchers and we have to continue to win even after this series.’’
It all looked very promising for the White Sox in the fifth inning as Gavin Floyd had a 1-0 lead in his first start since Aug. 26.
But Kevin Youkilis (2 homers, 4 RBI) let a Brennan Boesch hopper get through him at third and soon there were runners on second and third with one out in a 1-0 contest.
Ventura chose to play the infield back to guard against the big inning, and a routine grounder to short scored the first run to tie the game. Austin Jackson’s two-out single put the Tigers up 2-1, and Ventura replaced Floyd with lefty Hector Santiago, who walked Andy Dirks.
For the second time in the inning, Ventura — with two relievers warm and ready to go — raised some eyebrows when he let Santiago face Miguel Cabrera. To Santiago’s credit, he pitched wisely to Cabrera and had him down 1-2 in the count before Cabrera’s brilliant inside-out swing flicked a ball through the hole between first and second for a basehit and a 3-1 Detroit advantage.
Still 3-1 in the top of the seventh, with two on, two out and Prince Fielder lurking, Ventura took out righty Brian Omogrosso and instead of a red-hot Donnie Veal, went to lefty Leyson Septimo.
After Septimo missed with his first pitch, Fielder hit one that was last seen heading toward Kentucky, for a 3-run homer and a 6-1 Tigers lead.
Veal had pitched the last three days and four of the last five, but he threw only 2 pitches Tuesday — 15 total pitches in those 4 outings — and this was a relatively important situation.
Confusing matters more, Veal warmed up in the bottom of the eighth when the Sox scored 4 runs to cut the lead to 8-5, and entered the game in the ninth to face — of all people — Fielder.
Veal got the slugger to fly out to center on the first pitch and the left-hander was done for the night, having retired Fielder all 3 times he’s faced him this week.
“There comes a time where you’re using Donnie every night, though it turns out we used him later,’’ said Ventura, who was trying to stay away from Veal. “Prince has seen him quite a few times lately, too, so we were trying for a different look there.’’
In a season in which Ventura’s been so effective and should be in the running for Manager of the Year, Wednesday was not a good night for the rookie skipper.
Then again, when your pitchers don’t make pitches, you tend to look bad regardless of the decision.
With Chris Sale on the mound, that’s not likely to happen Thursday.
ŸListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.