CHICAGO -- And you thought your last quick visit to the Windy City was a boost.
The Tigers' series here began and ended in less than 24 hours after back-to-back days with no baseball. Even after taking both games, capped by Wednesday's 5-1 win behind Max Scherzer's six shutout innings, the traffic jam in the American League Central meant the impact in the standings was small.
Amazing, then, the difference it made in the shape of the club.
For the Tigers' rotation, it was a reminder that strong starting pitching is still going to play a big role in determining the course of the season. With the White Sox scoring in only one of 13 combined innings against Scherzer and Justin Verlander, the course of the series was effectively set.
When Verlander and Scherzer start back-to-back games, no matter what else ails the Tigers, it's still a formidable obstacle for opponents to overcome, and a luxury for first-year manager Brad Ausmus.
"There's 29 other managers that would like to be able to do that," he said.
For Scherzer, it was a reminder that consistently strong pitching is going to win out more often than not, even if it's not going to yield a long winning streak like last year. He won his third consecutive start Wednesday, too late to net him another unbeaten start to his season, but it's just in time for the Tigers to start building some momentum.
It wasn't vastly better pitching than his first three starts to the season, when he took two no-decisions and a loss with little run support. But it was shutdown pitching in the moments he needed it.
"Really, I pitched my best when there were runners on base," Scherzer said. "When it got into situations, I was able to take it up a notch and get my location and execute pitches. That's the reason I was able to keep runs off the board."
For the Tigers' bullpen, it was a reminder that the better the rotation does behind them, the more set their roles, and the more consistent they seem to pitch.
The White Sox sapped 105 pitches out of Scherzer over six innings on a day when his manager didn't want to push him too far past 110. Ausmus decided to give Al Alburquerque a clean start to the seventh inning rather than bringing him in with traffic. He retired the side in order on back-to-back groundouts and a strikeout, then Joba Chamberlain sent down the middle of the order in the eighth.
Not until Dayan Viciedo doubled and scored in the ninth off Evan Reed did Detroit's bullpen surrender a run in the series.
"You get some guys on, you get opportunities and that's when good pitchers really show their stuff," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "[Scherzer] did that today. We at least got him a high pitch count, and he couldn't get eight or nine innings. But, he's just tough."
Scherzer (3-1) retired the side in order in just two of his six innings and allowed a runner to reach scoring position in each of the other four, but he took advantage of four inning-ending strikeouts.
A slider inside on Viciedo spoiled Chicago's chance to build an early advantage, stranding two in the first inning after Jose Abreu's second double in as many games. Scherzer's strikeout of Adam Dunn two innings later, however, might have been the best example.
He had runners at the corners and a 2-0 count to Dunn, who took him deep to right-center field for a home run six days earlier at Comerica Park. From there, however, Scherzer slowed down his bat with a changeup, only to overpower him from there.
"I was able to fool him and then he took a 2-1 fastball, so you know I did something right there to disrupt what he was looking for," Scherzer said. "I was able to get to 2-2 and I had shown him all my pitches and I decided to go with my best in that situation and try to throw a fastball by him. That was a big out in that situation."
Back-to-back strikeouts of Tyler Flowers and Marcus Semien stranded two more in the fourth inning before Scherzer overcame a Viciedo double in the sixth. Add in strikeouts of Flowers and Alejandro De Aza in the second, and Scherzer fanned seven batters for the sixth time in as many outings this year, the longest such streak to open a season in franchise history.
Scherzer took two no-decisions and a loss in the first three of those outings. His three wins have come behind 19 innings of three-run ball on 14 hits with 26 strikeouts.
"But also, realize this is a process," Scherzer said. "You can't just bank on pitching well in certain situations. You have to pitch well from the beginning to the end. That's the part that, even though I was able to keep it scoreless and did a great job of battling, the process of not walking guys always frustrates me. The process of not throwing first-pitch strikes, that's always frustrating. It's refining the process and making sure you're ahead and probability's in your favor, not the other way around."
For the Tigers' offense, it was a reminder that this offense can still beat up a vulnerable starting pitcher.
For one trip through the Tigers' order, Hector Noesi showed some potential for a pitching duel, retiring nine straight batters after a leadoff single to begin the game. Once Torii Hunter led off the fourth with a double to the center-field fence, however, the Tigers made the adjustment and knocked out Noesi before he could get a third out.
Sacrifice flies from Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos moved the Tigers ahead, but it was Bryan Holaday's line drive into the left-field corner that gave Scherzer complete command. The two-run double made it three RBIs in two games for Holaday, whose squeeze bunt drove in the go-ahead run Tuesday night.
"I wouldn't say there was a big adjustment," Holaday said. "Each time you see a guy, it helps out, and I think that was more the case. First time through the lineup, he did a really good job. We have a really good lineup, and once those guys see you for a second time, they're going to be able to put together better at-bats."