DETROIT -- The Tigers spent three nights looking for a big hit with runners in scoring position in Kansas City. Their search for a big hit with the bases loaded went on a lot longer than that.
With one Delmon Young go-ahead double, they found it at home against the team they needed to beat most, from the hitter who arguably needed one the worst.
"That's one of those hits we've really been looking for all year, not just from Delmon," manager Jim Leyland said after the bases-clearing double sent the Tigers to a 7-4 win over the White Sox Friday night at Comerica Park. "We haven't cleared the bases many times with a hit like that, and we got one tonight."
They couldn't have timed it much better.
The Tigers' struggles scoring runs in Kansas City left them heading into this divisional clash perilously close to a must-win situation. A sweep would deadlock the division heading into the season's final month. Winning two out of three would whittle the deficit to two games with four games left in Chicago next month.
A loss Friday, on the other hand, would've sent them into September with a four-game deficit. The Cardinals and Rays last year showed that big September gaps are nothing for the Wild Card, but just three teams in the three-division era have rallied from four or more games back on Sept. 1 to win a division. The last team to do it, the 2006 Twins, beat the Tigers to do it.
For about six innings, Friday felt like a game that could put them there. While the Tigers scored all their runs on extra-base hits, three on home runs from Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta, the White Sox drove in three of their runs without hits -- partly helped by Detroit's defensive struggles -- to tie the game after six innings.
Eventually, Tigers hitting won out, doing so in its least productive situation. In so doing, Detroit moved to two games back with their top two starters, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, pitching the next two games of the series.
Their lack of grand slams is well known, joining the Twins as the only Major League teams without one this season. Beyond that, though, no American League team entered Friday with a lower batting average in bases-loaded situations than the Tigers, .198 (19-for-57). Just four of those 19 hits had gone for extra bases, all of them doubles.
Detroit missed out on a bases-loaded opportunity in the opening frame Friday when Alex Avila grounded into an inning-ending double play, closing out a chance to compound Cabrera's two-run homer. Jake Peavy gave up single runs in the second and fourth innings from there, but avoided the knockout punch to last into the seventh.
A leadoff walk to Andy Dirks and another Cabrera hit, this time a single, knocked Peavy out to bring in lefty Matt Thornton against Prince Fielder.
Once Thornton's 1-1 pitch hit Fielder in the back, the lefty-lefty matchup was gone, but the bases-loaded chance was in play. Up came Young, 0-for-8 with the bases loaded, albeit with a walk and three RBIs. Only Cleveland's Casey Kotchman entered the night hitless in more bases-loaded at-bats among AL hitters.
Statistically, one can argue, he was due. He was also 3-for-7 lifetime off Thornton.
"I was trying to get a ground ball in that situation," Thornton said. "I'm in a heck of a jam, bases loaded, no outs. I'm trying to get in there on his hands so he can roll something over."
Young described what he got in one word: "Fastball."
Leyland's description summed up the importance of one well-timed drive into the gap.
"This is the type of hit that we've been looking for all year," Leyland said. "We finally got one, and Delmon got a big one at the right time."
It continued what has been a late-season drive for Young, who heads into free agency this winter with no role guaranteed. He's batting .326 (28-for-86) over his last 22 games with eight doubles, three homers and 13 RBIs.
He would've had another clutch homer in Kansas City had his shot just stayed on the fair side of the pole. He'll take a gapper.
"It doesn't really matter," Young said. "We're just trying to win ballgames."
With that, the Tigers won a Peavy start for the fourth time in five meetings this season, though two ended up no-decisions for Chicago's ace. Friday's loss left Peavy (9-10) winless in his last five starts.
Former White Sox reliever Octavio Dotel (5-2) picked up the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings, stranding A.J. Pierzynski following his leadoff double in the seventh. Jose Valverde pitched the ninth for his 27th save.