CHICAGO -- The tarp went on the infield at U.S. Cellular Field almost as soon as the White Sox recorded the final out of the Tigers 5-4 loss on Monday. Time is running out on summer.
It's running low, too, on the Tigers, who left the Windy City just before fall-like weather rolled in Monday night. Just like that, it can change -- the seasons, and the races.
In just over 24 hours and in two different cities, the Tigers went from the confidence of controlling their own fate to the queasiness of needing help to get into the postseason.
"You always need help in some way or another, whether it's an opposing team having a bad day and your guys having a better day than they are," reliever Phil Coke said. "But yeah, I guess you can say that. I'm not going to argue it, because yeah, we're in a position where we have to chase them down."
In just over two innings Monday, the Tigers went from seemingly solving the division-leading White Sox again to staring at another one-run deficit that stood up, sending Detroit three games down to Chicago in the American League Central with 16 games to play.
It came down to something as simple as an Alex Rios slide into second base to turn a potential rally-killing double play into a two-run swing.
"I don't have an excuse. I have to make a good throw," said second baseman Omar Infante, who was toppled by Rios as his throw headed into the dirt and skipped past first baseman Prince Fielder to the Tigers dugout.
For a team that has lost its last 10 one-run games since Aug. 24, two-run swings are potentially devastating. For the Tigers, two-run swings in each of the last two games -- Sunday's ninth inning in Cleveland, Monday's fifth inning in Chicago -- are the difference between a deadlocked division and a three-game deficit.
At the very least, the last game the Tigers and White Sox are scheduled to play against each other this season changes the theme of the race. The Tigers, who seemed poised to draw even with the White Sox on Thursday night before rain washed out Justin Verlander's matchup with Chris Sale, now head back to Detroit as the pursuers.
It has turned that fast, and on that little. The bright side is that it makes a three-game deficit with 16 games left look far from impossible, especially with the White Sox visiting the Angels next weekend and hosting the Rays after that.
"There's plenty of time," manager Jim Leyland said, "but you have to win games. If you don't win some games, then time becomes real short. Obviously, it's not the situation you want to be in, but that doesn't bother me."
The flip side is that everything, even plays that seem minute earlier in the year, becomes magnified. They were magnified on Monday. And in close games, the magnified plays aren't going for them, whether they're giving extra outs to the opponents or not taking advantage of their own at-bats.
"It's going to be tough," Austin Jackson said. "We've just got to really handle our business and keep going out there and trying to win these ballgames. The pressure's on, but it's been that way for a while now. We know what we have to do. We're capable of doing it."
The Tigers made enough plays early to sprint ahead, missing out on a second-inning scoring chance but getting a soft liner to left field from Delmon Young in the third for a two-out, two-run single and a 3-0 lead.
When the White Sox loaded with the bases with one out against Doug Fister in the bottom of the inning, he responded with back-to-back strikeouts on Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn, dropping opponents to 0-for-8 against him with the bases loaded.
Dewayne Wise broke the drought with a two-out, two-run single to tie the game in the fourth, but Peralta's diving stop ended the threat and Young delivered another RBI single as part of three straight hits in the fifth for a 4-3 lead. They chased White Sox lefty Jose Quintana from the game and sent Chicago manager Robin Ventura to his talented but inexperienced bullpen.
Nate Jones gave up Young's single, but it was the only hit Chicago's bullpen allowed, starting a hitless stretch with Peralta's second double play of the afternoon. Once back-to-back singles put runners at the corners with nobody out for the White Sox in the bottom half, the Tigers turned to Al Alburquerque to do the same.
He came within a double-play throw of escaping, even after he walked Rios for a bases-loaded, no-out jam.
After A.J. Pierzynski lined out to right, Alburquerque used his darting slider to induce the ground ball he needed from Dayan Viciedo. Peralta fired to Infante for the out at second, but Rios' slide sent Infante tumbling as he fired to first.
"That's a situation where every second baseman knows we're coming in hard," Rios said. "And it was a clean slide, and we took advantage of that."
Infante knew Rios was coming in, but didn't realize he was that close. His left ankle was bandaged up after the game from one of Rios' spikes.
"I've made a lot of errors," Infante said. "I don't care if I make errors if the team does everything. If I make errors and the team wins, I feel good. But when we don't win, I feel bad for that."
Fielder made a last-ditch effort to pick the ball out of the dirt but didn't get the bounce he expected, bringing his glove up early as the ball skipped past him and into the Tigers' dugout.
"It just got under me," Fielder said.
The tying and go-ahead runs both came home, giving the White Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish. And the Tigers' grasp on their fate slipped a little more.
It won't take much to get it back, the way the race has gone. It might not take much to worsen, either. Their fate has turned on less.
"If you win games, this lead could shrink up real quick," Leyland said. "If you don't, then you've got a problem."