CHICAGO -- Things are getting crowded atop the American League Central.
A late rally wasn't enough for the White Sox to overcome Max Scherzer's early dominance, and they fell to the Tigers, 8-6, on Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field.
Chicago's loss was its second through three contests of this four-game series, which concludes on Thursday.
Despite dropping two of the first three, the White Sox remain in first place, by one game, over the Tigers. A win on Thursday -- a tough task against reigning AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander -- would give them what they had two days ago: a two-game lead.
"We need to come out and win the game tomorrow and we're right back where we started this four-game series, with four less games on the schedule," catcher A.J. Pierzynski said.
The White Sox fought in the late innings, hitting the Tigers' bullpen much more successfully than they did Scherzer.
Third baseman Kevin Youkilis hit two home runs, including a three-run shot in the eighth that brought the White Sox to within three, and the White Sox added a run in the ninth on an Alexei Ramirez groundout. But Tigers closer Jose Valverde struck out Orlando Hudson for his 30th save of the season.
The comeback attempt was nice, but as Pierzynski said, it does nothing and matters zilch for the White Sox as they prepare for tomorrow's showdown with Verlander.
"There's no moral victories anymore," Pierzynski said. "It's just about winning or losing."
Youkilis put the White Sox in an early position to win with a solo homer in the fourth, but the Tigers quickly answered against righty Gavin Floyd (9-10, 4.59 ERA).
Tigers outfielder Brennan Boesch opened the fifth with a single before Floyd walked Jhonny Peralta. After a sacrifice bunt, Boesch scored on Omar Infante's groundout to short.
Austin Jackson singled in Peralta to end Floyd's night, then Miguel Cabrera welcomed reliever Hector Santiago with an RBI single to score Jackson and put Detroit ahead by two.
The Tigers added three with one swing of the bat by Prince Fielder, who blasted a three-run homer off lefty Leyson Septimo in the seventh, and another two in the eighth.
Fielder's homer came off Septimo rather than fellow left-hander Donnie Veal, who, after getting Fielder to fly out in the ninth, has retired all 21 left-handed batters he has faced this season.
"It just becomes a time you're using Donnie every night," manager Robin Ventura said. "Prince has seen him quite a few times, so you're looking for a different look."
Scherzer (16-6, 3.77) scattered four hits and struck out seven in six innings, improving to 6-0 with a 1.29 ERA in his last seven starts.
"He's been terrific. He was terrific again tonight," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "It's not the easiest place to pitch, obviously, particularly when you've got a really good team you're playing against."
Floyd, who entered Wednesday 7-2 in his career against Detroit, struck out seven and walked one in 4 2/3 innings in his return from the disabled list. He threw 69 pitches and said he felt no pain; Pierzynski said the righty was "as good as I've seen him in a long time."
Thursday's matchup is the final of the season between the AL Central's top two teams and two of the division's top pitchers, as lefty Chris Sale opposes Verlander. The Tigers have continued to dominate the rivalry, winning 12 of 17 this season, but it's the White Sox who sit alone in first place -- at least for one more day.
A win on Thursday gives the White Sox the same lead they had beginning play on Monday. A loss and the division is tied, the eventual winner being the team that plays better the rest of the way -- no matter Thursday's outcome.
"We're going to have to win games after tomorrow, too," Ventura said. "We're going to face good pitchers just like [Verlander]. Everybody else that we're going to face has good pitchers, anybody can beat you on any day.
"You've got a lot of people you're going to play on the schedule that are good. You just continue to play."