DETROIT – Dylan Axelrod offered no excuses for his performance.
The right-hander was forced to start Friday night because of an injury to teammate Andre Rienzo, and Axelrod gave up seven runs in less than three innings in Detroit's 12-5 win over the White Sox.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer became baseball's first 20-game winner.
Axelrod said he knew in advance he would be pitching.
"I found out a couple of days ago and I was prepared," Axelrod said. "I'm not going to use that as an excuse. I didn't feel really out of sorts, I went about my regular routine. I'm used to starting so it wasn't that big of a deal, it just didn't work out."
Axelrod (4-10) lasted only 2 2/3 innings. He hadn't pitched since Sept. 12 and hadn't started since July 10, when he also gave up seven runs to the Tigers.
Former Tiger Avisail Garcia hit a two-run homer for the Sox.
Scherzer (20-3) was making his fifth attempt at win No. 20. He had two losses and two no-decisions in his previous four starts before Friday's victory on a rainy night. Torii Hunter had four hits for Detroit, and Victor Martinez homered.
The AL Central-leading Tigers lowered their magic number to eliminate second-place Cleveland to three.
"We aren't the only team that has had trouble stopping those guys," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "That lineup is going to make any pitcher struggle, and if you aren't sharp, you are going to get it handed to you."
Scherzer's previous career high was 16 wins last year, and he's been terrific this season from the start. He began with a 13-0 stretch and remains among the front-runners for the American League Cy Young Award.
By the middle innings, the biggest obstacle between Scherzer and win No. 20 was probably the weather. It was raining at the start of the game, and although the teams played through it, there was always the possibility of a delay that could have knocked Scherzer out before he could pitch the required five innings for the victory.
Detroit's offense did its part, scoring two runs in the first, one in the second, four in the third and five in the fifth. With the rain falling and umbrellas showing up throughout the crowd, Scherzer allowed three runs and six hits. He walked one and struck out three.
"Not many people are able to accomplish this, but at the same time, I realize why I accomplished this," Scherzer said. "It's everybody involved. This entire clubhouse is the reason why I won 20 games."
Rienzo was scratched because of a blister on his throwing hand, forcing Axelrod to start in his place. After a sacrifice fly by Chicago's Conor Gillaspie opened the scoring in the first, the White Sox intentionally walked Martinez in the bottom of the inning with men on second and third and two outs. Andy Dirks followed with a bases-loaded single that scored two runs and put the Tigers ahead to stay.
Hunter's RBI double in the second made it 3-1, and Detroit sent 10 batters to the plate in the third.
Alex Avila hit an RBI single, and Hunter's single with the bases loaded brought home two more runs and chased Axelrod. Miguel Cabrera's run-scoring single made it 7-1.
Garcia, who was traded from Detroit to Chicago earlier this season, homered off Scherzer in the fourth to make it 7-3, and the White Sox loaded the bases in the fifth before Paul Konerko hit a weak grounder for the third out.
Prince Fielder's two-run single in the Detroit fifth was followed by Martinez's two-run homer. Omar Infante added an RBI triple.
Garcia hit an RBI triple in the eighth to make it 12-5.
NOTES: Chicago lost for the 93rd time this season, the most for the White Sox since they went 64-97 in 1976. ... Detroit's Ramon Santiago, playing SS because of an injury to Jose Iglesias, made a nice diving catch of Adam Dunn's line drive in the second. ... Avila struck out four times. ... Detroit RHP Rick Porcello (13-8) takes the mound Saturday night against Chicago ace Chris Sale (11-13).