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Final nail in the coffin

Chicago White Sox pitcher Sergio Santos (46) walks off field after giving up game-winning home run Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrerninth

Chicago White Sox pitcher Sergio Santos (46) walks off the field after giving up the game-winning home run to Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera in the ninth inning of a baseball game Saturday Sept. 3, 2011, in Detroit. The Tigers defeated the White Sox 9-8. (AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:27AM

DETROIT — As it should be.

You don’t galumph through a season the way the White Sox have and then decide it’s time to get serious. You don’t assume victory is yours because you’re playing a game in the non-Verlander category.

You don’t leave blotches on the page for most of a year and then decide to write a comeback story in elegant handwriting. Fairy tales aren’t built around underachievers. Underdogs, yes. Underachievers, no.

The Sox blew an 8-1 lead Saturday and lost 9-8 to the Detroit Tigers after closer Sergio Santos gave up two ninth-inning home runs. You had to look closely, but the word “goodbye’’ seemed to be forming on the White Sox’ lips. They trail Detroit by 71/2 games in the AL Central.

This one is o-vah.

To be sure, that’s not what the Sox were saying after Ryan Raburn and Miguel Cabrera crushed home runs that, as of his writing, might very well still be airborne. The Sox were saying they would put their collective shoulder down and push ahead. It’s what proud athletes say.

But this one was a killer, and everyone in the clubhouse knew it. Maybe it’s better that it ended like this. The season has been such a tease that maybe it was time for some cruel reality.

“It seems like when we play well, all of a sudden we go backwards a couple of steps,’’ a somber Ozzie Guillen said afterward.

There had been nothing in the first 135 games to suggest a miracle would present itself to the Sox on Saturday, nothing that said a long winning streak was imminent. This is a frustrating team, a team that will leave you with embedded thorns if you try to hug it. The Sox’ longest streak of the year is five games, and they did it twice.

Door slammed shut

But there they were with an 8-1 lead in fifth inning. They scored five runs in the fourth inning alone. Maybe it wasn’t silly to leave room for a sliver of hope. Maybe this team had finally found something. Five innings later, you would feel silly for even harboring that thought.

Even as the Tigers inched their way back, it didn’t feel as if an anvil was hanging over the Sox’ heads. It was 8-5 when the weather took a turn for the worse in the eighth inning.

First, there was a rain delay.

Then there was lightning, provided by Rayburn and Cabrera. Both hit homers that traveled about 420 feet. Both took advantage of lifeless sliders.

As it should be.

The Sox’ chorus all season has been, “We should be better than this.’’ Well, no, they shouldn’t be. Their record says they’re 68-68. Try it on for size. It fits perfectly.

Asked what about this season would suggest the Sox have one last run in them, first baseman Paul Konerko was succinct.

“I mean, not too much,’’ he said. “You play, and you play hard. That’s what you do as a baseball player. It’s pretty easy. It’s really not that difficult a thing. You show up and give everything you have, and if after 162 [games] we’re not there, we’re not there. It’s not rocket science.’’

Maybe not, but this season has been like honors calculus, cause for a lot of head-scratching for the Sox. It shouldn’t have been this ­difficult with the talent they had. But that’s the way it works in baseball ­sometimes.

Soap opera

With the Sox, everything gets magnified. It’s a franchise that has run on turmoil for the last eight years. The only difference now is that a team that was supposed to be a challenger in the American League isn’t. If it had been winning, everybody would be talking about the wonders of creative tension.

But now the hitting coach is getting into a screaming match with the general manager. And the manager wants a new contract. It’s all very messy, and the entertainment value has dropped like a bathtub dumped in a river.

The Sox are holding on by their fingernails, hoping to conjure up one last charge to at least make this season interesting. It’s probably too late. The Tigers play better together, and they have Justin Verlander.

That was supposed to be why the Sox had the edge Saturday. The ­Tigers had won with their ace Friday. Now there would be a reckoning. But, no. Maybe great teams can turn it on and off. But the Sox aren’t one of those, no matter what their payroll might say.

Guillen had said Saturday’s game would be “huge.’’ He couldn’t have been more right.

He and his team vowed to continue fighting.

“You come back tomorrow,’’ Santos said. “The beautiful thing about baseball is there’s another game coming up.’’

After Saturday’s collapse, that sounded more like a threat than a comfort.

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