DETROIT – A day after perhaps their most embarrassing loss of the year, the Chicago White Sox got a lift from a rookie making his fourth career start.
Erik Johnson pitched into the seventh inning, and the White Sox beat Detroit 6-3 to end any chance of the Tigers clinching the AL Central title in their home finale Sunday. Detroit needed a win and a Cleveland loss to wrap up the division in the Tigers' final scheduled home game, and neither happened.
The 23-year-old Johnson (2-2) allowed two runs and nine hits in 6 2-3 innings, and Chicago held on a day after blowing a six-run lead in the ninth inning against the Tigers.
"I thought I threw the ball well and I had run support early," Johnson said. "Every start, I try to build on the next one."
Anibal Sanchez (14-8) yielded four runs and eight hits in five innings, taking his first loss since July 19.
Prince Fielder homered for the Tigers. Detroit was without slugger Miguel Cabrera, who has been bothered by groin soreness.
The Tigers gave themselves a chance to clinch at Comerica Park with a stirring comeback the previous night, when they scored six runs in the ninth inning to tie the game before winning 7-6 in 12.
Detroit never led Sunday, and by the middle innings the chances of a postgame celebration were looking increasingly remote.
"I thought I did a good job minimizing big situations," Johnson said. "I threw all four pitches for strikes today."
Fielder tied it at 1 in the fourth with his 25th homer of the year, but Chicago answered with three runs in the fifth. Center fielder Austin Jackson got a bit of a late jump on Conor Gillaspie's line drive, which sailed over his head for a two-run triple. Avisail Garcia's RBI single made it 4-1.
Jeff Keppinger added a two-run double in the seventh.
There would be no dramatic rally by the Tigers on this day. Detroit did load the bases in the seventh, and Jackson hit a sacrifice fly. Donnie Veal relieved Johnson and got pinch-hitter Torii Hunter to line out to end the inning.
"We had that feeling in the dugout," Hunter said. "Guys were talking about it: 'Uh oh. Can we do it two nights in a row?'"
On Saturday, the Tigers scored five runs in the ninth before a single out or pitching change. This time, pinch-hitter Brayan Pena led off with a double, and White Sox manager Robin Ventura immediately pulled Veal. Matt Lindstrom got the final three outs, although Detroit did manage another run.
Johnson pitched six scoreless innings against Minnesota in his previous start, and although he only struck out one batter against the Tigers, he was able to avoid the big inning.
"He did a good job going against a tough lineup," Ventura said. "He stayed out of trouble. That's great composure for a kid as old as he is."
Johnson did not walk a batter.
Sanchez had won seven straight decisions and entered with an American League-leading ERA of 2.51, but he didn't look sharp. Chicago took the lead right away when Sanchez allowed a one-out single to Alexei Ramirez, threw a wild pitch and gave up an RBI single to Garcia.
"No matter where we are, as long as we clinch and we get it done, that'll let me know that postseason is there," Hunter said. "All I care about is the World Series. I think if you set your goals high, and you chase the ultimate goal, which is the World Series, I think everything else falls in line."
NOTES: Garcia, Keppinger and Detroit's Alex Avila had three hits each. ... Detroit plays at Minnesota on Monday night, with RHP Justin Verlander (13-12) taking on RHP Mike Pelfrey (5-13). ... The White Sox host Toronto. Chicago LHP Jose Quintana (8-6) faces LHP J.A. Happ (4-6).