DETROIT -- Chris Sale threw a couple pitches he'd like to have back – and on this night, there was little margin for error.
And now there's no margin in the standings between Sale's Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers.
Justin Verlander shut down Chicago after the first inning and Delmon Young hit a tiebreaking three-run homer off Sale in the sixth Sunday night to lift the Tigers to a 4-2 victory and a share of first place in the AL Central.
Sale also allowed a solo homer to Brennan Boesch. After Young's homer, he came into the dugout and sent a container of gum flying.
"I've been giving up a lot of home runs lately and that's just not getting it done," Sale said. "I'm averaging two home runs a game – balls left and right leaving the yard. It can't happen, especially now at this time of the year when games count and you need wins."
Alejandro De Aza hit Verlander's second pitch of the night over the wall in right field, but the Detroit ace was outstanding after that. Verlander (13-7) allowed four hits in eight innings, striking out 11 with two walks. The Tigers swept the three-game series to pull even with the White Sox atop the division.
"They were both good. He pitched a great game and Sale pitched a great game," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "Credit their pitching. We just have to be better on offense."
Sale (15-6) allowed four runs and five hits in six innings.
Jose Valverde allowed a run in the ninth but held on for his 28th save in 32 chances.
Pinch-hitter Dan Johnson hit an RBI single off Valverde, and with men on first and third, Orlando Hudson hit a line drive to center. Austin Jackson momentarily misjudged it before tracking back to make the game-ending catch.
Amid a playoff-type atmosphere for a rare Sunday night game at Comerica Park, De Aza struck immediately. In his first at-bat after coming off the disabled list, he connected for his seventh homer of the year. De Aza had been out with injured ribs.
Verlander shook off that setback quickly, striking out three in the first inning and making it clear this would not be a repeat of his eight-run, 12-hit disaster at Kansas City in his previous start.
Sale was sharp too. He struck out seven and walked four, but Boesch sent a drive to center in the fifth for his 12th homer of the season, tying the game.
In the sixth, Omar Infante singled and Miguel Cabrera walked to start a Detroit rally. Prince Fielder struck out, but Young – who is on an eight-game hitting streak – homered to left. It was his 17th home run of the year.
The lead was plenty safe with Verlander, who received a huge ovation from the crowd after striking out Dewayne Wise with his 124th and final pitch.
The White Sox have lost seven straight to the Tigers. They were swept in a three-game series at Comerica in July, momentarily ceding first place to Detroit before taking it back in short order. Now the teams look set for a tense September. The Tigers begin a series with Cleveland on Monday, while the White Sox head back to Chicago for a 10-game homestand that includes a four-game showdown with Detroit from Sept. 10-13.
There was already a hint of contentiousness in this one, when Verlander and A.J. Pierzynski exchanged words during one of the Chicago designated hitter's two strikeouts.
"After the 1-0 pitch, he yelled something – two words that I could not repeat either one of them," Verlander said. "So I had some words back at him once he struck out."
Pierzynski downplayed the incident.
"The way (Max) Scherzer and Verlander pitched the last couple nights makes it tough on anybody," he said. "You could throw the `27 Yankees out there and they're going to get them out."
Scherzer went eight scoreless innings for Detroit on Saturday night.
Chicago slugger Adam Dunn missed his second straight game with a strained oblique.
NOTES: Jackson reached in the fifth on a weird error when first baseman Paul Konerko let the ball roll all the way until it hit the base and bounced away, allowing Jackson – who wasn't close to the bag yet – to arrive safely. ... Chicago's Tyler Flowers went from first to third on a wild pitch with two out in the seventh but was stranded. ... Chicago LHP Hector Santiago (2-1) starts against Minnesota RHP Samuel Deduno (5-2).