After back-to-back one-run losses to the White Sox the past two nights, Sunday looked all too foreboding. There stood Fernando Rodney on the mound in the eighth, protecting a two-run lead with runners on first and second and Paul Konerko at the plate as the potential go-ahead run. Rodney was in after Joel Zumaya left with an injury a few batters earlier, and he was going to pitch the ninth after replacing Todd Jones as the team's closer.
Rodney retired the next four batters, holding onto the 6-4 Tigers victory and salvaging the final game in the series. Now it's up to the Tigers to try to make up the 6 1/2-game division deficit elsewhere, including the three-game series against these same White Sox at Chicago in little more than a week.
"I think we're still playing for a lot," manager Jim Leyland said.
On Sunday, they played through a lot as well.
Not only was Rodney closing a sight that hadn't been seen in a couple years, it was something that wasn't announced until Leyland revealed it on the Tigers' pregame radio show on Sunday afternoon. An injured Zumaya has been a sight seen before over the last couple years, but with what was announced as right triceps tightness, the Tigers are hoping he might be available within the next couple days, though they have no idea for sure.
Zumaya left with one out and a runner on, having walked the leadoff man in the eighth. Rodney entered and retired A.J. Pierzynski on one pitch, but walked Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye to load the bases. Jim Thome slashed an opposite-field liner to left for the second time in less than 24 hours, this one plating two runs and giving Konerko a swing at the lead.
Rodney retired Konerko on a harmless grounder to third, then stayed in for the ninth, but he couldn't exactly breathe easy. With the potential tying run on deck, Rodney went to full counts against all three batters he faced at the bottom of the White Sox order, the first two after putting them in 0-2 holes.
"My fastball was a little inconsistent," Rodney said, "a little out of the zone."
All three Sox hitters that inning -- Nick Swisher, Alexei Ramirez and Juan Uribe -- struck out swinging at fastballs out of the strike zone. Swisher chased a 97-mph payoff pitch slightly up. Ramirez went after a 98-mph heater up near his shoulders. The 94-mph fastball that Uribe chased off of the plate to end the game was Rodney's 42nd pitch of the afternoon.
"For whatever reason, guys take a pitch at 3-1. When he gets to 3-2, they seem to swing at those pitches," Leyland said. "I certainly don't want to downplay what Rodney did, because it was a tremendous job. But the fact of the matter is, that's three walks."
Those are too many pitches for a closer to throw and be a regular presence in the ninth, Leyland pointed out. For this occasion, it worked. It wasn't an easy getaway, and it doesn't leave the bullpen in great shape for Monday's series opener at Cleveland. Still, it was a win.
The sight of Jermaine Dye putting a ball into the packed seats at Comerica Park has become all too familiar. The difference this time was that the Tigers had given themselves a cushion before he struck.
Dye's 24th home run of the year, and 24th career homer off Tigers pitching, was one of two homers allowed by starter Zach Miner (5-3). Both, however, were solo shots, and they comprised the only runs he allowed in his six innings.
"The stuff felt good," Miner said. "I was just going to try to go out there and throw strikes and be efficient. They're going to get hits, and they're going to hit homers. They get paid a lot of money to do that. I was just trying to limit the damage."
Dye's homer merely cut the Tigers' lead after three Detroit third-inning runs -- one on Curtis Granderson's solo homer, the other two on Miguel Cabrera's two-out single following back-to-back walks from White Sox starter Javier Vazquez (7-9). Marcus Thames added on to the lead with a sixth-inning solo shot, his 20th homer of the season, before Edgar Renteria doubled in Ivan Rodriguez two batters later.
Renteria went 2-for-4 to finish at 5-for-12 for the series and 9-for-20 over the last five games. Rodriguez went 4-for-4 to improve to 7-for-18 over his last four games.
The Tigers, meanwhile, went 1-for-3 for the series. It wasn't what they wanted, but it beats being swept, which was certainly looking possible.
"It wouldn't have been the kiss of death if we lost," Leyland said. "We're still not in a good situation. We let one game get away, but there's plenty of baseball left, and we're still involved. We're seriously involved. Are we in as good of shape as the White Sox are in? Absolutely not. If you're picking somebody today, would you pick the White Sox? Absolutely yes. But there's a lot of baseball to be played."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.