CHICAGO – Max Scherzer was eager to get on the mound Wednesday night. The way he sees it, there's nothing better than having the chance to pitch and help his team make the playoffs.
Detroit's hard-throwing right-hander allowed four hits and a run in six strong innings and the Tigers beat the Chicago White Sox 8-6 to move within a game of the AL Central lead.
"I love being in this situation. This is where I want to be," Scherzer said. "I want to have all the marbles on the line in a pennant race, where these games mean everything. I love having the ball in this situation."
Scherzer (16-6) set a career high for wins, struck out seven to increase his major league-leading total to 220 and improved to 10-1 over his last 14 starts. The only run he allowed was on the first of two homers by Kevin Youkilis.
With Detroit leading 3-1, Prince Fielder hit a three-run homer in the seventh and the Tigers held off a late Chicago rally to beat the White Sox for the ninth time in the last 10 games.
"It's really big. If we just focus on trying to play good baseball, it should work out," Fielder said. "It feels like every time we score, they score and vice versa, but that's what happens. Anytime you have two good teams, you know it's not gonna be easy. Fortunate for us, we were able to beat them in the final round."
After dropping the opener of the key four-game set on Monday, the Tigers have won two in a row in their last head-to-head meeting with the AL Central leaders.
"I knew coming in we had to win these games. This was going to be the biggest start of the season for me, and I wanted to go out and give the team a chance to win," Scherzer said.
Thursday night's series finale features a pair of aces, with reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander taking on White Sox left-hander Chris Sale in a rematch of a Sept. 2 game that Verlander won with an eight-inning, 11-strikeout effort.
"We're going to have to win games after tomorrow, too," Chicago manager Robin Ventura said. "We're going to face good pitchers just like him (Verlander). ... Scherzer pitched great, there was nothing going on there. You just continue to play. We're not quitting at any point. That's the one great thing about the team, they're not going to get down where they're giving up."
Fielder hit his 26th homer in the seventh against lefty reliever Leyson Septimo, snapping a 0-for-18 slump and giving Detroit a 6-1 lead. The drive to right followed two-out singles by Andy Dirks and Miguel Cabrera.
Even though another White Sox lefty, Donnie Veal had, retired Fielder twice during the series, Septimo got the call this time. Ventura said he wanted to give Fielder a different look than what he would get from Veal.
"I knew a lefty was coming, they're all the same. It's a lefty, they're all tough," Fielder said.
"We had done a really good job of getting Prince out for the first 2 1/ 2 games and he hung a slider and Prince didn't miss it," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "That's what good hitters do and that's why he gets paid also."
The Tigers added two more runs in the eighth on RBI doubles by Alex Avila and Austin Jackson.
Youkilis belted a three-run shot off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth to get the White Sox within three runs. Youkilis has 18 homers, 14 of them since he was acquired in a trade with Boston in late June. He entered the game in a 3-for-34 slump.
Jose Valverde allowed two hits and a run the ninth on Alexei Ramirez's grounder before getting Orlando Hudson on a called third strike for his 30th save in 34 chances.
Chicago starter Gavin Floyd (9-10), activated from the disabled list (elbow strain) earlier in the day, pitched well for the first four innings but gave up three runs in the fifth.
Brennan Boesch, who had been 0 for 18 in his career against Floyd, opened the fifth with a single and Jhonny Peralta walked. Avila sacrificed, Omar Infante drove in a run with a grounder and Jackson delivered an RBI single to put the Tigers up 2-1 and finish Floyd.
Hector Santiago came in and walked Dirks before giving up an RBI single to Cabrera.
Floyd threw 70 pitches in his first start since Aug. 26. He gave up four hits and was charged with three runs to go with a walk and seven strikeouts.
NOTES: Floyd fell to 7-3 lifetime against the Tigers. ... White Sox DH Adam Dunn sat out his sixth straight game with a right oblique strain.