Justin Verlander outpitched Chris Sale last week.
Doing it again would return the AL Central race to a dead heat.
Verlander looks to continue his dominance of the Chicago White Sox as the Detroit Tigers attempt to deal Sale his first home defeat in four months in the conclusion of this key four-game set Thursday night.
Detroit (75-67) is one game back of Chicago (76-66) with 20 left in the regular season, and both teams are sending their respective aces to the mound for the finale of the season series.
Verlander (13-8, 2.91 ERA) got the better of Sale (16-6, 2.88) on Sept. 2 at Comerica Park, yielding one run and four hits with 11 strikeouts in eight innings of a 4-2 victory. Sale allowed four runs on homers by Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch while fanning seven and walking four over six innings.
That win forged a tie atop the division, but Detroit dropped six of seven before winning 5-3 Tuesday and following it up with an 8-6 victory a day later.
"It's really big. If we just focus on trying to play good baseball, it should work out," said Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder, who had a three-run homer Wednesday. "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."
Giving the ball to the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner should have Fielder and his teammates confident they can tie the race up again.
Verlander is 12-1 with a 2.23 ERA in his last 13 starts against the White Sox, winning all five visits to Chicago's South Side in that stretch behind a 2.20 ERA.
He's making his first start there since Sept. 13, 2011, when he scattered six hits in seven innings of a 5-0 win.
Verlander, though, followed up his most recent meeting against Chicago with a lackluster performance in a 6-1 loss at Los Angeles on Saturday. He surrendered all six runs - four in the opening frame - and nine hits in six innings.
"Right off the bat, it just wasn't his night," manager Jim Leyland said. "A lot of teams plan on going right after him early. They just ambushed him, and it worked."
While the White Sox will try to beat Verlander for the first time since July 15, 2011, Sale seeks his first victory against the Tigers.
The left-hander has lost all three starts against them this year, compiling a 6.00 ERA.
He rebounded from his latest defeat to Detroit by continuing his success at U.S. Cellular Field, yielding one run and five hits with six strikeouts in six innings of Saturday's 5-4 win over Kansas City.
Sale is 8-0 with a 1.20 ERA in nine home starts since losing to the Royals on May 12.
"It's always nice pitching at home in front of your home crowd and being at home," Sale said. "I don't know. I couldn't pinpoint anything exactly but it's just kind of how it is."
The White Sox have lost 12 of 17 against the Tigers this year, splitting eight games at U.S. Cellular.
"We're going to have to win games after tomorrow, too," manager Robin Ventura said. "We're going to face good pitchers just like him (Verlander). 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."
The Associated Press News Service
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