CHICAGO - The Detroit Tigers held a 41/2-game lead in the American League Central when they started Tuesday night's game, but manager Jim Leyland was more concerned about another mark.
Prior to Detroit's 9-1 win against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field, the Tigers were just 2-6 in the month of September, including three straight losses. Leyland wasn't in the mood to pat himself or any of his players on the back before the game.
"The bottom line here is to win," he grumbled. "We've got 18 games left here to prove we're the best team in the Central, plain and simple."
It's down to 17 now, but the Tigers' lead is back up to 51/2 games over the second-place Cleveland Indians (77-67) -- who lost 5-3 at home to the Kansas City Royals. Aided by four Chicago errors, five unearned runs and 15 hits, Detroit got back to winning - and did so impressively.
Starter Rick Porcello (12-8) pitched his first career complete game, getting back into the win column himself by yielding only the one run on seven hits and facing just one over the minimum through the last five innings - retiring 12 straight from the fifth through the eighth.
Prince Fielder went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and his 23rd home run of the season, while catcher Alex Avila finished 4-for-4 and drove in two runs to lead the Tigers offensively. Conor Gillaspie went 2-for-2 with an RBI single to lead the White Sox, but his offensive production was overshadowed by three errors he committed playing third base.
Taking advantage of two fielding errors, the Tigers went ahead 6-0 after four innings against White Sox rookie starter Erik Johnson, who made just his second career big league start. Johnson was only charged with two earned runs after a throwing error by Gillaspie led to two runs in the first and Paul Konerko's dropped ball on a tag at first led to two more in Detroit's three-run third.
Still, it was not a good outing for Johnson, who gave up five runs (three earned) in his Major League debut against the New York Yankees on Sept. 4 at Yankee Stadium.
Johnson struck out four, but allowed seven hits, including a solo home run by Fielder and a double by Austin Jackson that led to the Tigers' sixth run. Detroit hitters also ran Johnson's pitch count up quickly. He needed 75 pitches to get through the first three frames and left the game after 3 2/3 innings having thrown 96 pitches.
Porcello, meanwhile, was a lot more efficient for Detroit after getting lit up for nine runs (eight earned) in just five innings in his previous start, which the Tigers lost 20-4 in Boston. Despite allowing hits in each of the first four innings, Porcello gave up only one run - which came on Gillaspie's two-out single in the fourth.
Gillaspie, however, gave it right back in the top of the fifth to make it 7-1 Detroit. His second throwing error of the game allowed Alex Avila to score from second on Jackson's grounder that was hit right to him.
NOTES: The White Sox got RF Avisail Garcia back after he missed two games while dealing with a painful tooth issue that was resolved Monday, when he had two teeth extracted. ... White Sox manager Robin Ventura was still a player when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened. He was playing for the Mets, who were playing in Pittsburgh at the time. The Sox manager talked about his memories of that experience prior to the game. ... Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said before the game that suspended SS Jhonny Peralta would rejoin the team on Wednesday to begin on-field workouts while serving his 50-game suspension for violating baseball's performance-enhancing drug policy. Peralta will only be allowed to work out on the field in uniform before the gates to the ballpark open to fans. He will be eligible to be reinstated the last week of the regular season, but Dombrowski hasn't decided whether he'll make that happen or whether Peralta will be included on the postseason roster should the Tigers qualify for the playoffs. ... Dombrowksi also said SS Jose Iglesias is the Tigers' starter at that position now, meaning Peralta would be relegated to backup duty or a utility role if he returns to action with Detroit. ... The Tigers recalled LHP Darin Downs from Triple-A Toledo on Monday to add another left-handed option in the bullpen.