With their ace on the mound and their sluggers providing timely hits, the Detroit Tigers inched another step closer to first place.
Justin Verlander shut down the White Sox after the third inning, and Detroit beat Chicago 4-2 on Friday night in the opener of a big three-game series.
The Tigers trail the first-place White Sox by a half-game in the AL Central. They were six games back after a loss to the Chicago Cubs on June 12.
"I have no idea how this is going to play out, but we’ve come here the same every day," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "When you’re a good team, at some point you’re going to play good. And we’re a good team, and right now we’re playing pretty good."
Verlander (11-5) yielded four hits in eight innings, including a two-run homer in the third by Alejandro De Aza. He struck out six and walked two. Jose Valverde finished for his 18th save in 22 chances.
Jake Peavy (7-7) struck out the first five batters he faced and seven overall, but Detroit scored three runs in the third.
"I had good stuff, and I wanted to establish the breaking ball early and get it in their heads, but I’m not thinking about striking out a bunch of people," Peavy said. "It’s really frustrating, because this was a big game, and it was a night where you want to pick your team up, and I just wasn’t quite good enough. It was only a couple pitches, but that’s all that it takes when you are going against that guy. You don’t have any margin for error."
Peavy went seven innings, allowing four runs and eight hits — five during Detroit’s big third inning. Jhonny Peralta led off with a double but had to stay at second on Ramon Santiago’s single because the ball was nearly caught on the fly by right fielder Alex Rios.
Peavy almost worked out of a jam when Austin Jackson hit into a double play, but Quintin Berry was hit by a pitch, and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder followed with consecutive RBI singles.
"I just think that’s the sign of a great hitter to me — when the only way you produce is not by the home run alone," Leyland said.
Delmon Young’s run-scoring double put the Tigers ahead 3-2.
Verlander cruised after that, allowing only one hit over his final five innings. Jackson hit an RBI single with two outs in the seventh for another Detroit run.
"Especially against a guy like Peavy, I knew that if I gave up much more, it’s game over," Verlander said. "That’s what I told myself. I said, `All right, that’s it.’"
Verlander struck out Alexei Ramirez to start the eighth, then broke Gordon Beckham’s bat with a 100-mph fastball. Beckham was left holding the sawed-off handle after a foul ball. He popped out on the next pitch.
"I’ve managed Justin long enough to know now that when he smells it, something like that’s got a chance of happening," Leyland said. "I don’t pay much attention to a broken bat, but I do pay attention to the fact that — 99, 100 (mph) in the eighth inning. To be honest with you, I’m kind of used to that, but I was a little concerned, because he exerted himself a little bit more tonight. He was pumped up, and so was Peavy."
After De Aza grounded out to first for the third out of the eighth, Verlander — who had covered first on the play — walked slowly back to the dugout while the sellout crowd gave him a standing ovation. He threw 121 pitches.
Verlander has pitched at least six innings in each of his last 62 regular-season starts.
Chicago’s Kevin Youkilis came back after missing Thursday night’s loss at Boston with a tight left hamstring. He struck out three times against Verlander and flied out against Valverde.
Valverde, who has been erratic this year, managed a 1-2-3 ninth, capped by Berry’s diving catch in left field.
NOTES: Chris Sale (11-2) takes the mound for the White Sox on Saturday against Detroit’s Rick Porcello (6-5). … Chicago manager Robin Ventura said he hopes RHP Gavin Floyd (right elbow tendinitis) will be able to pitch Monday, but he wants to see how the pitcher feels Saturday. … The White Sox are 13-13 against the Tigers in games started by Verlander, but 1-11 in the last 12.