DETROIT -- Friday's 7-4 victory for the Tigers over the White Sox before 36,721 at Comerica Park bordered on a must-win situation for Jim Leyland's second-place crew.
Any sort of setback for the Tigers (70-61) would have given the White Sox (72-59) a season-high four-game lead in the American League Central and provided the visitors a comfort zone in the division.
Flip this series opener to the front-running White Sox point of view and it certainly wasn't a game they regarded lightly. They would have loved to set the weekend tone with Jake Peavy on the mound and snapped a four-game losing streak at Comerica.
Yet, there's no reason for the White Sox to panic over one game in which they couldn't come up with the one big hit.
"No. We're ahead. We're ahead by two games. I think everyone has to understand that," said White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis, who finished 0-for-4 during the South Siders' eighth setback in 12 games with the Tigers. "No need to panic right now because the games haven't been played yet.
"We're still in first place. Until we're not, we got to keep playing and acting like we are."
Acting like a first-place team on Friday would have involved a little better showing for the White Sox with runners in scoring position, as they finished 0-for-13 and stranded 12. The lack of success in this area certainly wasn't for lack of good at-bats.
With the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth, Youkilis lined a shot off Tigers starter Doug Fister right at third baseman Miguel Cabrera that had bases-clearing potential all over it. In the seventh, with A.J. Pierzynski on third and two outs, Gordon Beckham battled Octavio Dotel (5-2) through a 10-pitch at-bat before lining out to center fielder Austin Jackson.
It was just an off night for the team with a Major League-best .287 average with runners in scoring position.
"We had chances, it just didn't happen," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "We had guys line out, Gordon had a great at-bat. It was one of those nights where it doesn't fall in for you."
"We'd get it tied and we had chances and couldn't find a way to get the lead," said Pierzynski, whose leadoff homer in the second produced the first White Sox run and broke a personal 0-for-17 skid. "But give their guys credit. They made pitches when they had to and that's what good teams do."
Detroit also got a hit when it needed to, specifically in the seventh inning.
Peavy (9-10) admittedly didn't have his best stuff but cruised through the sixth inning with a pitch count under 100 and was given the chance to come back for the seventh. He earned that chance through his season's body of work, not just the sixth, per Ventura.
That fateful seventh started with a walk to Andy Dirks and then a single to left from Cabrera, who launched a two-run homer off of Peavy in the first inning. Cabrera's hit came on a 3-1 pitch, after Peavy thought the 2-1 offering should have been called a strike by home-plate umpire Lance Barksdale.
"I'm sorry, that's a strike," said Peavy of the pitch to Cabrera, which contributed to the right-hander being charged with six runs on nine hits in six-plus innings and falling to 1-2 against the Tigers in 2012. "That's just all there is to it. It's a strike. I went back and looked at it and felt like I had a pretty good argument there.
"I didn't have much. It was a battle from the start. I didn't have good location. I didn't have great stuff. But I was trying to battle and trying to keep us in it."
Matt Thornton relieved Peavy and hit Prince Fielder with a 1-1 pitch, loading the bases with nobody out and leading to Fielder staring back at Thornton and then having a few words with Pierzynski. Delmon Young followed with a double to left-center on a 0-1 fastball, scoring all three runners with the game-winning shot.
"In that situation, I was trying to get a ground ball," said Thornton of the pitch to Young, adding that he had no idea Fielder stared back at him after getting drilled. "I'm in a heck of a jam, bases loaded, no outs. I'm trying to get in there on his hands so he can roll something over. He was able to drive it."
"That's one of those we've really been looking for all year, not just from Delmon," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "We haven't cleared the bases many times with a hit like that, and we got one tonight."
When asked about how it felt hitting that big double, Young said it didn't really matter because the Tigers simply are trying to win games. That theory applied to both of these teams in the first of seven head-to-head, potential division-deciding matchups over the next two weeks.
Detroit got a much-needed victory, ending a three-game skid and dropping the White Sox to 3-16 over their last 19 at Comerica. Now, it's time for an answer from the White Sox, who are 1-4 on their road trip and stand at 1-7 in their last eight road games.
"Playing the teams behind us, of course they are meaningful games," Peavy said. "At the same time, we've got a long way to go. One game isn't going to make us or break us."
"Every game right now is big for us. It's a playoff game," Cabrera said. "Every game right now is important."