CHICAGO -- Rick Porcello went four weeks without the Tigers scoring a run while he was pitching. On the night his offense finally got him a run of support -- and only one run -- his defense then let him down.
"He was pitching really, really well," manager Jim Leyland said. "We just didn't play a very good game."
He didn't mean specifically on defense. After all, with or without three errors and another ground ball that got through, they still only scored one run off a rookie left-hander who had given up 12 runs in his previous two starts and was precariously close to another early-inning exit Monday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
The total package might well be a microcosm of the frustrations of the Tigers' season. And after a 6-1 loss to the American League Central-leading White Sox dropped Detroit to three games back in the division race, it's a season that's running out of time for the Tigers to make a move.
That time might have to be the rest of this four-game series, in which Detroit will send its top three starters to the mound -- Doug Fister goes Tuesday, followed by co-aces Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
"It's not slipping away at all," catcher Gerald Laird said. "We've got three more games. We've got three good guys on the mound. We've played very well against these guys. Tonight, we didn't play a very good, solid game. That's the bottom line.
"We gave them extra outs. Not to take anything away from them. They made some good swings. But when you give teams multiple outs in an inning, they're going to hurt you. Ricky made some pitches, but that one inning, we got guys to the plate that maybe shouldn't have gotten up to the plate that inning and they hurt us."
With Porcello riding a year of success against Chicago into Monday's opener, the combination of extra outs and missed chances might have cost them a game that was there to take.
They never quite grabbed it, much like two critical ground balls in the sixth. Thus, Monday marked the Tigers' sixth loss in seven games since they swept the White Sox in Detroit over Labor Day weekend to tie up the standings. In all of those losses, they've scored two runs or less. As a result, they're back to the same gap they faced going into that series.
"It's tough. Everyone's busting their tail," Laird continued. "I mean, I'm not blaming anybody. We're 25 guys. It's all of us. You play as a team. You go down as a team."
Still, he admitted, "It seems like when other teams are getting opportunities, they're taking advantage of them."
Take your pick which facet cost them more. Had the Tigers turned their four consecutive second-inning hits into more than one run, or had Miguel Cabrera not hit into a double play with two on and none out in the third inning, Porcello would've had more breathing room. Had Prince Fielder come up with a big drive in the eighth as the potential tying run in a 4-1 game, Porcello might have been off the hook.
That was the aspect that seemed to linger with Leyland in the moments after the game, given the way Jose Quintana recovered to pitch 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball.
"We hadn't seen him before, and we had him on the ropes a little bit early," Leyland said, "but we didn't get the knockout punch, which has been a little bit of a problem for us, obviously. ... He settled down. It looked like he got determined. He got a little more confidence as the game went on."
Quintana admitted as much later.
"After that, pretty much, it just gives you a little bit more confidence," Quintana said through an interpreter. "So once you have that confidence, it just kind of takes you on from there."
The Tigers, who were 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position in their three-game sweep to the Angels over the weekend, went 1-for-7 in those situations Monday. The White Sox were technically worse, going 2-for-16. Their two hits, however, left the park.
They were 0-for-10 through five innings against Porcello, whose called-third strike on Paul Konerko with a runner on second in the opening inning seemed to set his tone. He retired 13 of 15 batters before the rally, stranding Dewayne Wise on second base in the fourth inning after Ryan Raburn's errant drop in left field and Gordon Beckham on second the next inning after his leadoff double.
He couldn't hold down Rios after back-to-back ground balls turned against him in the sixth.
Omar Infante cleanly fielded Wise's grounder to the right side, but lost his grip as he exchanged it to his throwing hand, his sixth error at second base since joining the Tigers from Miami in late July. Porcello got an 0-2 count and a ground ball from Konerko, but it was far enough in the hole that Jhonny Peralta couldn't stop it from rolling into left field. He was playing for the double play.
Earlier in the day, pitching Jeff Jones had complemented Porcello for keeping his cool in big situations, but he still made a mound visit to buy Porcello time to catch his breath and figure out how he wanted to attack Rios.
"If you're going to get beat, you want to get beat with your best stuff, Porcello said. "In that situation, I've got one out, I've got runners at first and second. I'm looking for a ground ball, and the pitch I'm going to get a ground ball with is my sinker. I just left it up. It was up and in and he turned it around."
It was Rios' 23rd home run this year. Two pitches later, Pierzynski took Porcello deep to center for his 26th home run. Gordon Beckham added a two-run homer off Octavio Dotel in the eighth.
Wise accounted for Porcello's ninth unearned run this season, two more than he had in any of his previous three big league campaigns. If Porcello gets the double play from Rios, the infield defense doesn't hurt him. Then again, without those two plays, those home runs count for two runs, not four.
Either way, it's a bad combination.