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White Sox offer something pretty for a change in AL Central race

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox

Detroit Tigers v Chicago White Sox

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Updated: October 12, 2012 6:19AM

The question Monday was whether it was possible for the struggling White Sox and the struggling Detroit Tigers to play each other and both lose.

The short answer was, ‘‘Yes.’’ The long answer was, “Have you been paying any attention to the unfortunate brand of baseball currently being offered up by these two teams?’’

The first-place Sox had lost seven of their previous 10 games heading into Monday’s showdown. The second-place Tigers were losers of five of their previous six games.

There’s a distinct possibility the winner of the American League Central will arrive in the playoffs accompanied by a beeping sound reserved for a truck going backward.

Is that important? Do style points matter? Or, to put it more directly, can ‘‘winning ugly’’ ever be considered an insult?

The short answer to all of that is, ‘‘No.’’ The long answer is, ‘‘A championship is a championship.’’

But, goodness, it sure is nice when the Sox score runs and win pretty. When Jose Quintana pitches well. When Alex Rios and A.J. Pierzynski hit back-to-back homers. When Donnie Veal gets Prince Fielder to ground out with men on second and third to end that half of the eighth.

When the Sox take a three-game lead with a 6-1 victory.

All that happened Monday night at The Cell, but it didn’t come easily. A three-run homer by Rios in the sixth ended a 0-for-10 stretch with runners in scoring position for the Sox. Before that, asking for a run felt like asking for gold bullion for Christmas.

‘‘I think everybody was frustrated with the way the last few days have gone,’’ Sox manager Robin Ventura said. ‘‘When Rios hits that ball, it just kind of pops the cork on all the angst of not getting guys in.’’

The Tigers led 1-0 after five innings, leading to a legitimate question: Does anybody in Detroit or Chicago want this thing? Both teams do. They just had an odd way of showing it.

“We haven’t played well, but they haven’t made us pay for it, I guess,’’ said the Sox’ Gordon Beckham, who also homered Monday.

Sox fans had been begging for Quintana to recapture what he had brought to the mound earlier in the season. He obliged Monday — eventually. He opened the game by allowing six hits to the first 11 batters. Somehow, the Tigers got only one run out of it.

Then he settled down, allowing only one baserunner over the next 17 batters. The crowd gave him a standing ovation when he was pulled with two out in the eighth. Ventura lauded Quintana’s ‘‘guts.’’ Considering the kid was coming off the two worst starts of his rookie season, that wasn’t a stretch.

The Sox had a runner on third base in three of the first four innings and failed to score. They had hit .189 with runners in scoring position in their previous 10 games. But then came the sixth inning, when Rios sent a Rick Porcello pitch into the good night for a 3-1 lead, followed by Pierzynski’s homer.

We probably need to remind ourselves more often: While everyone is grumbling about the bumbling and stumbling being done down the stretch, lots of teams aren’t playing meaningful games right now.

Do the Sox have enough? I don’t know. I do know they have Donnie Veal, a name that sounds like it belongs in ‘‘The Sopranos.’’ So there’s that. They don’t quit. And the Tigers don’t play like they’re the more talented team, though they are.

A crowd of 30,287 showed up at The Cell on Monday, thanks in part to a half-price ticket promotion and some Tigers fans in attendance. But at least more people were exposed to the live Sox team, rather than the virtual team that many fans apparently think plays its games in a TV studio.

‘‘I think we’ll get some better crowds here for this series, and I think there’ll be better crowds going forward,’’ third baseman Kevin Youkilis said.

He might be right. The Sox have hung around all season, and despite their recent struggles, are still the team to beat in the Central. To repeat for the disbelieving: Their lead is three games.

‘‘It feels real small,’’ Beckham said. ‘‘It’s not enough. It doesn’t feel very comfortable, especially with the team we’re playing right now.’’

But few people thought the Sox would be here, playing for something real on a crisp September night. But here they are indeed. Looking down on Detroit.

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