CHICAGO -- All of a sudden, the Tigers are struggling.
Sure, Detroit still has a six-game lead in the American League Central. And, yes, three of the Tigers' last four losses have been by one run -- including two in extra innings.
But after being one of the league's hottest teams for much of the season's short second half, the Tigers suddenly can't come through in the clutch.
The last-place White Sox and Alejandro De Aza were able to do so Tuesday night, as De Aza hit an 11th-inning walk-off single to give Chicago a 4-3 win at U.S. Cellular Field and hand the Tigers their third straight loss and fourth in their last five games.
"They all hurt the same because a loss is a loss. But every time they do a walk-off fashion, I think it's even harder," said Tigers catcher Brayan Pena, whose eighth-inning single pushed the game into extras.
The White Sox relief corps pitched brilliantly Tuesday, tossing six innings of one-run ball. Detroit's did, as well, before a sloppy 11th inning by Jeremy Bonderman (2-4).
The right-hander issued a leadoff walk, failed to make a play at second base on a sacrifice bunt and walked another to load the bases with one out before being removed for Phil Coke, whom De Aza welcomed with a line drive to right field.
"To make contact," De Aza said of his approach. "Make good, solid contact because I know the infield was in and I was just trying to put the ball in play."
Coke surrendered the game-winning hit, but the loss deservedly went to Bonderman.
"You can't walk leadoff guys," Bonderman said. "You can't afford to put guys on base and give them free passes. It's my fault."
The Tigers had a dream scenario in the top of the 11th, when an error by White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez brought Miguel Cabrera to the plate with runners at the corners and two outs. Cabrera lined a pitch off Addison Reed (5-1), but he was unable to leg out a hit as Ramirez recovered for a nice inning-ending play.
Cabrera slid into the bag and got up gingerly, but he remained in the game. The third baseman has been slowed by an abdominal strain, but Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Cabrera was slow to get up because he hit his shin on the slide.
Pena's eighth-inning knock was one of only two clutch hits for the Tigers, who went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position and left 12 on base.
"It was just a matter of who was going to finally get the big hit or who was going to take advantage of an opportunity, and they finally did," said Leyland, whose club is 2-for-21 in such situations in the past two games. "We just couldn't quite get it done."
The eighth-inning comeback got Major League win leader Max Scherzer off the hook for the loss. The right-hander was far from dominant, needing 105 pitches (63 strikes) to make it through six innings while scattering four hits and issuing three walks.
"I just didn't pitch efficiently today," Scherzer said. "There in the fourth inning I got in some deep counts, hitter after hitter, and it just didn't allow me to get into the seventh or eighth."
Just as there was no win for Scherzer on Tuesday, for the first time in five games, there was no home run from Cabrera, who went 0-for-5 with a walk.
Instead, the other big hit came from a Venezuelan eight years Cabrera's junior with whom the Tigers are plenty familiar. One night after shortstop Jose Iglesias wowed defensively, one of two players the Tigers dealt away last month put them in an early hole.
Avisail Garcia drove Scherzer's 1-2 fastball into right field for a two-run triple to plate Beckham and Ramirez, whom Scherzer hit and walked, respectively, to open the fourth. Garcia scored on the play when Omar Infante's throw got by Cabrera at third.
"You can second guess yourself all you want about the pitch to Avisail. That's just baseball," Scherzer said. "But stuff you can control, when you hit Beckham, that's something you don't want to do. Then you walk Ramirez. Those are the things that frustrate me."
And unlike so many times this season, Detroit's offense was unable to provide the usual support for Scherzer.
"He wasn't at his best, it's not a secret, but the fact is he made some good pitches," Pena said. "Max, he's Max. Everybody knows we're not perfect. We're human. But the fact that today wasn't his best day and he kept us in the ballgame, that says a lot about the guy."