CHICAGO - The Detroit Tigers held a 4 1/2-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 games left now, and the Tigers' lead is back up to 5 1/2 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's Rick Porcello recorded his first career complete game and got his team back on the winning track with him.
"It was a big win for us all the way around," said Porcello (12-8), who faced only one over the minimum through the last five innings and retired 12 straight from the fifth through the eighth. "We were kind of in a little bit of a lull and we really needed a win. Everybody played great and I was fortunate enough to be on the (right) end of some nice run support, get some outs and I was able to pitch a complete game."
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 (58-86), but his offensive production was overshadowed by three errors he committed playing third base -- the first time that's happened to a Sox player since Andy Gonzalez did in 2007 against Texas.
"It's one thing if you don't think he cares, but I know he cares and I've had nights that were just like it," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura, who starred at third base as a player. "He's going to have to get over it. It's not easy, but he's going to come back from it. Everybody has a night like that."
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 wasn't a good outing for Johnson. He 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 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.
He didn't allow a hit and only one Sox batter reached base -- on a walk -- in the remaining five innings. After the eighth, Porcello got an emotional lift when he realized Leyland was going to let him try to finish it off in the ninth.
"I finally got a complete game, so I feel pretty good about it," he said. "I saw skip (Leyland) walk away (after the eighth) and I was like, 'Thank God.' I was pretty excited he let me go back out and close it out for him."
NOTES: The White Sox got RF Avisail Garcia back after he had two teeth extracted Monday. ... The White Sox released their 2014 schedule, and they will open the season at home for the second year in a row, playing the Minnesota Twins March 31 to April 3. ... Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said 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 before the gates to the ballpark are open. He will be eligible for reinstatement the last week of the regular season, but Dombrowski hasn't decided whether he will play again or if Peralta will be included on the postseason roster, should the Tigers qualify. ... Dombrowksi said SS Jose Iglesias is the Tigers' starter at that position now and Peralta would be relegated to backup duty if he returns to action. ... The Tigers recalled LHP Darin Downs from Triple-A Toledo on Monday. ... Detroit will open the 2014 season at home against the Kansas City Royals.