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06/08/06 1:08 AM ET

Tigers drop another close one to Sox

Detroit's lead in the division shrinks to a half-game

CHICAGO -- It was almost as if Tigers manager Jim Leyland saw this coming.

Before Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the White Sox, he discussed facets of the game that the Tigers need to improve to sustain the success they've had. He talked about improving their baserunning, cutting down on strikeouts and having tougher at-bats and big hits in key situations.

They improved Wednesday in every category, but the last.

They put runners on the move. They struck out just four times against Jose Contreras and his magic splitter, and they let him use 119 pitches to last seven innings. They just didn't score enough runs when they had the chance.

The Tigers went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position Wednesday, falling to 0-for-12 for the series. Of the four runners they advanced from first to third base, just one scored, and that was on a sacrifice fly.

With that, Leyland summed up what Detroit did offensively much the same Wednesday as Tuesday, when they had three solo homers.

"Not a lot," he said. "We had a couple chances."

The score was the same, as was the White Sox hero who did the damage. This time, Alex Cintron's hit was more of his traditional variety.

Tigers starter Justin Verlander had a quality start through his first six innings. Leyland sent him out for the seventh, but only to face Joe Crede ahead of two left-handed hitters and a switch-hitter. Verlander had suffered stiffness in the back of his right shoulder after his last start, and Leyland didn't want to stretch him much past 100 pitches.

"That's a golden arm," Leyland said. "That's a golden future, and I've got to be careful with that."

Crede, whose two errors on one play allowed the Tigers to tie the game in the top of the seventh, ended Verlander's night with a single to right ending the bottom of the inning. Jamie Walker entered, and Chicago's offensive manufacturing began.

Rob Mackowiak sacrificed Crede to second base for Cintron, whose eighth-inning home run was the difference in Tuesday's win. Unlike Fernando Rodney on Tuesday, Cintron did not have to work Walker deep into the count. Instead, he slapped a 1-1 pitch through the left side.

Third-base coach Joey Cora, regarded as aggressive with his baserunners, waved Crede around third. If Craig Monroe had been in left field, an accurate throw would've been an out at the plate, but Monroe left in the third inning with a sprained right ankle. Even with natural center fielder Alexis Gomez in left, it was expected to draw a play at the plate. When Gomez couldn't field the ball cleanly, the question was moot.

"I thought the guy was out," Leyland said afterwards. "Cora was very aggressive. He was going to make him make the play, and he didn't make the play. That happens. He charged it good, he had it and he just bobbled it, messed it up. That's part of the game. I don't have any problem with that."

Monroe had sprained his ankle crashing into the fence, trying to make a leaping catch on Scott Podsednik's RBI triple that hit off the top of the fence. X-rays were negative, and he'll be re-evaluated on Thursday.

Chicago's other two runs came on solo homers from Jermaine Dye in the fourth and Jim Thome in the sixth. Both shots came off fastballs from Verlander, the latter a 97-mph heater that Thome hit 395 feet to right field. The power display set up the White Sox for their aggressiveness on the basepaths in the seventh.

The Tigers, too, were aggressive, using hit-and-run plays to send runners from first to third. It was third to home that proved a problem.

Their first hit-and-run play sent Magglio Ordonez to third base on Carlos Guillen's single, putting runners at the corners with no outs in the second inning. Marcus Thames worked Contreras to a 2-2 count before popping out to third base for the first out. Contreras fell behind on a 3-0 count to Chris Shelton before escaping with a double-play ground ball to short.

After Curtis Granderson's solo homer opened Detroit's scoring in the third, Guillen again sent Ordonez from first to third in the fourth with a one-out bloop single. Thames flied out to center field, scoring Ordonez, then Shelton singled to put runners at the corners again before Gomez fouled out.

Even when the Tigers tied the game in the seventh, it should've been a blown chance. Granderson walked and Placido Polanco singled with one out, putting runners at first and second. Omar Infante, batting third with Ivan Rodriguez out of the lineup, struck out before Ordonez hit what should've been an inning-ending grounder to third.

Crede bobbled it for error one, then threw it wide of first for the second error, which allowed Granderson to score and Polanco to go to third. Contreras intentionally walked Guillen to face Thames, who hit a sharp line drive that Crede deftly snared at third.

"We caught a break, and then Marcus hit a ball pretty hard," Leyland said. "If that's in the hole, we've got two runs and we've got the lead. But we didn't do it."

The White Sox did just enough. And though the Tigers still have the Majors' best record, still top the AL Central by a half-game, they're 0-5 this season against the team that's now over their shoulder and charging aggressively. They've been a big hit away from victories the last two nights, and they're now a big hit away from dropping out of the division lead.

"It is tough," Verlander said. "Obviously, we would like to get a win out of those heartbreaker losses. But we're a team that's going to continue to battle, and I think the fact that they were one-run games -- even though at the moment it hurt a little more -- that just shows how tough we're playing."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.