After four months replicating last year’s White Sox championship run, the Tigers suddenly find themselves vulnerable to the South Siders.
The Tigers’ tailspin grew to five games Sunday in a 73 loss to Chicago, drawing the AL Central race from a season-high 10-game margin to 5.5 over the last week. Righty Freddy Garcia (117, 4.78) settled down after three-plus shaky innings to retire 12 straight batters and secure his first win since June 28. Second baseman Alex Cintron broke the game open in the second with a bases-clearing double to build a 41 lead that would stick for good.
“It’s a great feeling. This could have been ugly,” said White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen of the sweep. “Them coming in town, it could have turned out a different way. Now we’re closer. We just have to do what we’ve been doing and keep fighting.”
It was truly ugly for the Tigers, whose hitting woes and defensive miscues cost them a comfortable lead. They now face their longest losing streak of the season and have to look forward to a three-game set. That’s better than the alternative of looking back at a series that saw Detroit in the lead for a total of only 12 at-bats.
“You turn the page and move on,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “There’s not a lot to take from this. The White Sox played good, the Tigers did not.”
Neither Garcia nor Tigers starter Zach Miner looked like he would last long, as both had trouble fooling anybody with below-average fastballs. Garcia looked limited early with home-plate umpire Tim Timmons squeezing the outside corner, despite the righty’s glares. The Tigers slapped three methodical first-inning hits, including an RBI single by Carlos Guillen.
Miner (73, 4.25) struggled even worse, needing 29 pitches to escape the first with only one run of damage. After Cintron’s triple to deep center, center fielder Curtis Granderson had to leap and hang on to a spectacular stumbling catch to hold Paul Konerko to a sacrifice fly. Carlos Guillen followed that play with a long, off-balance throw on Jermaine Dye’s grounder into the hole to end the threat.
The rookie needed 30 more pitches in the second, walking two with two outs before hanging an 0-2 curveball to Cintron. Ozzie Guillen picked a good day to give regular Tadahito Iguchi a rest, as his backup crushed the belt-high pitch off the right-center wall for a three-run lead.
“Cintron has done a tremendous job as our backup guy in the infield,” Ozzie Guillen said. “Now he’s gotten better in the infield. With the bat, he’s always been a good hitter.”
The Tigers whittled the deficit to just one run by the fourth inning. Magglio Ordonez scored on Carlos Guillen’s RBI single in the third, and Craig Monroe was driven in by Sean Casey’s no-out double in the next frame.
Garcia, known for pitching better against good teams than weak ones, then pulled 12 straight outs out of nowhere, five by strikeout.
“I like the way our starting rotation has started throwing,” Ozzie Guillen said. “If he keeps throwing the ball like that, we’re going to win a lot of games. I have faith that our starting rotation is going to come around at the right time.”
Garcia seemed to get better as the outside corner expanded in the middle innings, something Tigers catcher Ivan Rodriguez would take issue with. After his eighth-inning strikeout looking, Rodriguez gave Timmons a face and earful on his way back to the dugout. Moments later after being ejected, Rodriguez sprinted out to confront Timmons before Carlos Guillen caught him and nestled him back to safety.
Guillen’s favored small-ball management paid off in the bottom of the seventh against lefty specialist Jamie Walker. Pinch-hitter Pablo Ozuna followed a Brian Anderson bunt with an RBI single through a drawn-in left side. Previously spotting pitches well, Walker has given up four hits and two walks in an inning pitched over six appearances.
“I just tried to make sure someone was going to put the ball in play,” said Guillen of having Ozuna hit for left-handed Scott Podsednik.
Closer Bobby Jenks entered to thunderous applause and chants of “Sweep!” with two on and one out in the ninth. He quickly cleaned the minor mess up with a pop-out and strikeout for his 33rd save.
If anybody is to stop Detroit’s postseason run at this point, it’s going to have to be the White Sox, who have taken 9 of 12 series games on the season and now face the lowly Kansas City Royals for four home games. Cintron may be a big part of those plans after his 2-for-4 day gave him a .419 batting average and 9 RBI against the Tigers in just 31 at-bats.
The two teams will face each other seven more times.
“If the whole rotation doesn’t come around, we won’t make a run,” Guillen said. “We’ve gone through a lot of tough times this year, but I have a lot of faith in them and that they’re going to get on the right track at the right time.”