Barring one team taking off or one team falling out, this consistently inconsistent division race has the makings of being decided on the season's last day if not an extra Game 163 at Comerica Park to break the tie.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," said White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski of this near dead-heat with the Tigers. "They're not going to go away. They'll keep playing hard."
"The end of the season is always like that," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "There's crazy stuff that always happens. We're going to keep playing. You don't know what's going to happen."
On Tuesday, the White Sox scored three runs via the long ball. Pierzynski and Dayan Viciedo went back-to-back to lead off the fifth against Cory Kluber (2-4), and Paul Konerko launched the first pitch from closer Chris Perez (37th save) to cut the ninth-inning lead to one. Pierzynski's 27th homer gave him sole possession of second place in single-season franchise homers by a catcher, trailing the 37 hit by Carlton Fisk in 1985.
Aside from the trio of home runs, the offense didn't really build off Monday night's exciting win. Even when Kluber struggled in the fifth, he was able to settle in and retire the next eight before giving way to Pestano.
"Really, I didn't try to do anything different. ... It was just, 'Don't dwell on it,'" said Kluber, whose two wins have come against the Tigers and White Sox. "I made a couple of bad pitches and they took advantage of them."
"He was ahead in the count, never really fell behind and was changing speeds really well," Pierzynski said. "He got out of the first inning. [Alex] Rios hit a ball really hard to right-center, and I thought it was over [Shin-Soo] Choo's head. He made a really nice play, and [Kluber] really settled down after that."
Francisco Liriano (6-12) struggled once again for the White Sox, allowing all four of Cleveland's runs in 3 2/3 innings. The left-hander yielded seven hits and walked two, while striking out four, putting runners on base in each of his four innings.
The Indians scored one in the first on Russ Canzler's home run, marking the second straight game that the first baseman has gone deep. They added three in the fourth, despite Liriano almost escaping the jam.
Carlos Santana walked and Canzler followed with a double to put runners on second and third with nobody out, before Liriano struck out Matt LaPorta on three pitches. Liriano walked Brent Lillibridge to load the bases, but Thomas Neal hit what looked like a double-play grounder to Gordon Beckham that would have taken the White Sox out of trouble.
Beckham, one of the top defensive second baseman in the AL, fielded the ball cleanly and then pivoted and threw to Alexei Ramirez at second. The throw was a little low and by the time Ramirez caught the ball, righted himself and jumped over Lillibridge to make the throw, Neal barely beat the play at first and the Indians scored a second run.
Singles by Ezequiel Carrera and Choo scored two more and knocked Liriano from the game, leaving him unable to escape an inning that could have finished scoreless.
"Obviously, you want to turn that double play," Beckham said. "I don't know. Yeah, that's not good. Not good."
"That's part of the game, but those haven't been going our way lately," said Ventura of the close call at first. "I thought he got out of it, but ... you gotta come back and get an out after that."
As for the final two innings, Pestano struck out Dunn representing the tying run in the eighth via a 1-2 slider after Dunn hit an 0-2 fastball for Monday's blast. And following consecutive walks by Perez to pinch-hitter Dan Johnson and Ramirez with two outs in the ninth, Beckham hit the next pitch for a fielder's choice to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, finishing off the South Siders' sixth loss in seven games.
If playing with heart and soul translated directly into victories, then the White Sox would have locked up the AL Central long ago. But Ventura's crew needs a few more timely hits or homers with a man or two on base to take control of this race before the season's final day.
"Good question, but not quite there yet," said Konerko on the race going to the last game. "Literally, 48 hours can change the whole complexion.
"It seems like it could. I hope not. I hope we clinch before that. But now we have to assume we're going to walk in here tomorrow even, which is fine, and be ready to fight. If anything's better than that when we walk in here tomorrow, that's a gift. But we're going to be fighting either way down to the end."