DETROIT — A sweep would’ve been nice. In fact, it might’ve been necessary.
But the White Sox, after clobbering the lowly Tigers 11-5 Sunday, settled for taking two of three over the weekend at Comerica Park, which means they’ll host the first-place Guardians of the American League Central for games Tuesday through Thursday trailing by three or four games, pending the outcome of the Twins-Guardians series finale Monday.
The Sox (76-71) have a day off Monday to rest and think about the Guardians, whom they need to sweep to claim the tiebreaker. They have 15 games left.
No one in the Sox’ clubhouse will put themselves on the spot and say they need to sweep Cleveland, but they know what’s at stake.
“We’ve got to win, definitely,” said AJ Pollock, who slugged one of the Sox’ three homers against Detroit. “We’ve got to win the first one, then we’ve got to win the second one, then after that, we’ve got to win the third one.”
Pollock chuckled at what he was saying. It sounded like he was saying “sweep.” It also sounded like acting manager Miguel Cairo’s “one game at a time” approach.
“Can’t sweep if you lose the first game,” Pollock said. “So you’ve got to win that first game, then, yeah, you’ve got to keep pressing the pedal down.”
Pollock, Andrew Vaughn and Eloy Jimenez put the hammer down on the Tigers (55-91) by homering, and Vince Velasquez pitched four innings of two-run ball as a last-minute starter. Johnny Cueto remained ill after missing his scheduled start Saturday, and Velasquez followed Davis Martin’s six innings of one-run ball with reliable fill-in duty.
“To come up and pitch four innings without knowing that he was pitching, it was big for us,” Cairo said. “It was awesome.”
Moments after the final out, the Guardians lost to the Twins for the first time in a five-game series.
“Today was big for us,” Velasquez said. “Every win is precious. This is a good way to take the series from Detroit and go back home and do some damage against Cleveland, right? This road trip itself has been very driven in the right direction. . . . We’ll see how it turns out.”
The four-game trip began with a one-stop Sox victory in Cleveland on Thursday.
“I don’t think we want to apply that pressure [of saying we need to sweep this week],” Velasquez said.
“We know what we have to do. [We have to] come out with a bang like we did today, keep playing fundamental baseball, keep applying pressure, trying to take the extra base, retaliate against them. . . . Cleveland has done it against us.”
Each Sox homer had an exclamation point attached. Pollock hit a tying shot against Tigers starter Drew Hutchison, Vaughn hit his first career grand slam against Jason Foley and Jimenez launched a 450-foot blast against Garrett Hill.
The Sox are 27-5 when they hit two or more home runs and 12-2 when they hit three.
Jimenez also doubled and singled, and Yoan Moncada and Gavin Sheets each had two hits. Jimenez’s three hits and seven total bases raised his hitting line to .355/.427/.601 with 12 homers and 36 RBI since the All-Star break.
After walking the first batter he faced, then giving up a homer to Willi Castro, Velasquez pitched in with three scoreless innings. Tanner Banks (2-0) was credited with the victory after striking out five in three innings of one-run ball in the final third of the game.
The focus then shifted to Cleveland (79-67), which has won 10 of its last 13. The Sox have won 13 of 18.
“So it’s going to be a good battle,” Vaughn said. “Just got to play our game. Pitch well, hit well, play defense.”