They almost did.
The 8-2 loss in Monday's makeup game won't reflect the Tigers' effort. Yet, for about half an inning, the Tigers had the White Sox staring at elimination, with Chicago's former big-game pitcher putting the pressure on them. With each quick out from Freddy Garcia, the Minnesota Twins were looking like pending American League Central champions without having to take the field.
With a tweak of Garcia's surgically repaired shoulder, the momentum completely changed in the bottom of sixth inning. And within five batters, the White Sox had a five-run inning, Alexei Ramirez had his fourth grand slam of the season and the Tigers had another demonstration of the problems that left them going home from here.
"Maybe this is justice, who knows?" manager Jim Leyland said. "Maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. The two best teams in the division all year have to play one game to see who goes [to the postseason]."
While the White Sox will go on to host a one-game tiebreaker against the Twins for the AL Central title on Tuesday night, the Tigers went their separate ways after the game -- some of them back to Detroit to pack, others directly to their offseason homes. They took with them a last-place finish in the division for the first time since Detroit's 119-loss 2003 season. Yet for a team that had little at stake in this makeup of a mid-September rainout, the Tigers put up a fight that seemingly surprised the Chicago crowd.
"We came in here to play hard," Miguel Cabrera said. "We don't give up. We showed them we're ready to play today. We were ready to play baseball."
Garcia, facing his old club for the first time since the White Sox traded him after the 2006 season, walked his first two hitters and gave up an ensuing RBI single to Jermaine Dye, putting Detroit's bullpen into surprisingly quick action to warm up. From there, however, he settled down to retire 15 of Chicago's next 16 hitters. He cruised through the second inning in seven pitches, the third in six and then the fourth with seven more.
"We were swinging at all kinds of things," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said.
It was vintage big-game Garcia, the kind of effort that used to doom the Tigers in the past. His fastball was approaching 90 mph, and his other pitches hit the corners. For a pitcher whom Guillen openly wondered two months ago whether he would pitch in the big leagues before the season was up, Garcia had a real chance to end Chicago's season right here.
"Freddy was a perfect guy for that game," Leyland said. "He wasn't going to get excited. He's been in big games before. The timing of the rotation worked out, but you could see, he wasn't going to get excited about anything."
The lingering doubt wasn't so much Garcia's arm or mindset, but the lead he was protecting. The Tigers had three straight hits leading off the fifth inning and ended up with a lone run to tie the game, unable to score with runners at first and third with nobody out thanks to back-to-back Gavin Floyd strikeouts. They took the lead when Floyd retrieved a would-be inning-ending comebacker from Ryan Raburn and threw it away, allowing Cabrera to score.
Garcia seemed capable of carrying it into the late innings, though he was working into the sixth for the first time this year after coming back from shoulder surgery. After a leadoff walk and a Dewayne Wise stolen base, the Tigers' dugout noticed something was wrong.
"About two pitches before [the stolen base], we noticed he was kind of moving [his shoulder] around," Leyland said. "I don't know whether he pinched something up there. It's too bad."
Leyland wasn't going to risk Garcia's health. After a quick visit to the mound, he promptly went back to the dugout and called to the bullpen for Armando Galarraga, who won 13 games as a Tigers starter this season and last pitched on Thursday.
Leyland said he went to Galarraga in hopes of getting his breaking ball to induce a ground ball to the left side that would keep Wise at second base. He got the hard breaking ball, but not the swings. Instead, Galarraga skipped a pair of sinkers in the dirt for wild pitches that brought Wise around to score and put Dye on base with a walk.
"Obviously, you could tell Armando wasn't used to that," Leyland said of the situation.
Leyland promptly removed Galarraga in favor of Bobby Seay, who threw another wild pitch that put Dye in scoring position but struck out Jim Thome for the first out. After an intentional walk to Paul Konerko, Seay faced Ken Griffey Jr., who walked unintentionally on four pitches to load the bases.
"The key to the whole game," Leyland called it. "That turned the whole game around. And we've done that way too much. I mean, you just strike a left-hander out and you get another left-hander two hitters later, and you walk him on four pitches. That was the kiss of death."
With that, Leyland went to right-hander Gary Glover. Ramirez belted his first pitch out to left, sending the White Sox into their tiebreaker.
It didn't send the Tigers anywhere they weren't already going, but they would've loved to have this one on their way out.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.