DETROIT -- The White Sox could have walked out of Comerica Park with a three-game sweep of the American League Central-favored Tigers.
They also could have been swept out of Detroit.
In the end, it was the Tigers (14-13) who emerged with the series win by virtue of Sunday's 3-1 victory before 39,558. Five of the six games played between these two this season have been decided by three runs or fewer, and every game in this set literally had the final outcome riding on the last pitch.
Being in almost every game, as the White Sox (13-15) have been for all but three of their 28 contests, could be considered encouraging for a team on the cusp of contention. It also could be deemed as frustrating for a team not quite able to propel itself into elite status.
For now, these tough early losses bring about a mix of both emotions.
"It's frustrating," said Adam Dunn, who hit his ninth homer and went deep for the fourth time in five games, while playing first base on Sunday. "We had opportunities to where we get a hit here and there and pick up some runs, but credit those guys. They pitched good, really good against us."
"Everybody wants more, but we're playing hard," said White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, who finished 0-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in the loss. "For whatever reason, the last 10 days it hasn't gone our way. There's no frustration setting in. You just want to go out there every day and continue doing what we're doing. If we do that and don't allow frustration to set in, we'll end up winning some of these games."
Beckham had a chance to win the game or at least tie it in the ninth against a somewhat erratic Tigers closer, Jose Valverde (fifth save). Alex Rios opened the last inning with a single, and one out later, Valverde walked pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.
Pinch-hitter A.J. Pierzynski popped out to Miguel Cabrera for the second out, but Beckham worked the count to 3-1. He swung and missed at a low fastball in the zone and a high fastball out of the zone to close out the contest.
"Swung through a pitch down and swung through a pitch up that was a ball, you know," Beckham said.
"No, it was a strike, a pitcher's pitch at the bottom of the zone," added Beckham, when asked if the 3-1 pitch was a strike. "But that's where I like it."
An 0-for-8 showing with runners in scoring position and eight runners left on base were not exactly a good showing for the White Sox offense. It wasn't quite as bad as the Tigers, who finished 1-for-10 with RISP and stranded 12.
But two swings of the bat against Dylan Axelrod were good enough to provide the margin of victory.
Austin Jackson, who struck out against Addison Reed with runners on second and third to end Saturday's contest, homered to lead off the bottom of the first. Prince Fielder then crushed a 432-foot shot to right-center with two outs in the third, which stood up as the deciding run, although Andy Dirks added a home run off Hector Santiago with two outs in the eighth for an insurance tally.
"That changed the dimension of the game a little," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland of Dirks' home run, marking the fifth long ball hit off Santiago in 10 innings.
Axelrod was starting in place of Chris Sale, who was moved from the starting rotation to closer prior to Friday's contest, and pitched just well enough to get beat. He gave up six hits and two runs over 4 1/3 innings, while striking out four, but his pitch count jumped up to 99 before being replaced by Will Ohman.Axelrod (0-1) was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte following the loss, with a corresponding move to be made Monday morning before the day-night doubleheader at Progressive Field.
Manager Robin Ventura said the Axelrod option was based on the right-hander being unable to pitch Monday.
"He pitched his guts out," said Ventura. "He battled all day. That's the stuff I've seen out of him through Spring Training and even last year."
"Right now, it's business," Axelrod said. "I'm not mad about it, it is what it is. Tomorrow we need some extra pitchers."
Southpaw Eric Stults was announced by Ventura as the callup from Charlotte to start in Monday's nightcap against the Indians, with the team using the 26-man exemption for doubleheaders. With Thursday's off-day, a fifth starter isn't really needed again until May 15.
Dunn's solo blast with two outs in the first ended up being the White Sox only run off Rick Porcello (3-2), as they slipped three games out of first place. Their AL Central journey continues against the division-leading Indians in Cleveland, where the South Siders hope some of these close contests start going their way during a four-game set and this 3-9 funk over the last 12 doesn't get any deeper.
"These are tougher losses than getting beat 9-3," Ventura said. "When you're one hit away, those are the ones you feel you have a shot at winning."
"Yeah, we played neck-and-neck all three games and we just obviously didn't get the big hit to either tie it or put us up," Dunn said. "Overall, we played good. Just obviously not good enough."