Their pitching was wild Wednesday night, issuing 12 walks in a 6-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians that knocked them into second place for the first time since July 23. Losers of seven of their past eight, the White Sox now have seven games left to regroup, or a successful season will end in the ultimate disappointment with no playoffs.
Detroit, which beat Kansas City 5-4 on Wednesday night, has a one-game lead.
"You're talking about a game lead, two-game, everything is so fragile. You talk about the momentum swings that can happen. This is one of them, the wrong way," Chicago first baseman Paul Konerko said.
"It doesn't mean in two days it doesn't swing the other way. ... It was tough out there tonight. We didn't deserve to win that game. This is the big leagues. You got to play all nine innings; you got to play well to beat a team."
The White Sox had a 3-1 lead after the first inning, but they couldn't hold off the Indians because their pitchers couldn't throw strikes. And for the second straight game, their starter didn't get out of the fourth inning.
"You can't win a game walking 12 guys. It seemed like every inning there were guys all over the bases," Chicago catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. "We have to find a way to win games. We jump out to a lead and we have to shut them down. Tonight we weren't able to do that."
Shin-Soo Choo had a go-ahead RBI grounder in the seventh off Matt Thornton (4-9), and Vinny Rottino hit his first homer for Cleveland in the eighth off Brett Myers. The Indians -- who are 21-50 since the All-Star break -- won two of three at U.S. Cellular Field.
"We played a pretty good series, we had a lot of good at-bats today, for the third day in a row we're able to play well against a left-handed pitcher, which we had struggled (with) the whole year," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "We put together a lot of good at-bats and ended up with 12 walks. That really helped us out."
Alexei Ramirez's two-out RBI double in the fifth put Chicago ahead 4-3.
But Choo doubled to open the sixth, and then the Indians drew three straight walks -- the final one on a 12-pitch at-bat by Carlos Santana against reliever Nate Jones -- to force in the tying run. With the bases still loaded, Thornton got Travis Hafner to hit into a 1-2-3 double play.
Tony Sipp (1-2) pitched one-third of an inning for the win, and Chris Perez finished in the ninth for his 38th save in 42 chances. He issued the Indians' sixth walk of the game, and after a throwing error by shortstop Brent Lillibridge, he retired Konerko on a fly to shallow left to end it.
Chicago now plays four at home against another team still in the running for the postseason, the Tampa Bay Rays, and then finishes the season with three at Cleveland.
"Obviously, now you need help. Even if you win out, they can win out, and it doesn't work," Konerko said. "That's about it."
The Tigers finish a series at home with Kansas City on Thursday, and then close the season with six road games against the Twins and the Royals.
Pierzynski, who played on Chicago's World Series-winning team with Konerko in 2005, said the White Sox's approach will be the same over the final week.
"There's no pressing. I don't think anything is going to change," he said. "I don't see guys coming in tomorrow nervous as they can be or trying too hard."
The White Sox scored three in the bottom of the first off Cleveland starter Justin Masterson, loading the bases on a walk and back-to-back singles by Kevin Youkilis and Adam Dunn. Konerko drew a walk to force in a run, Alex Rios hit a sacrifice fly and Pierzynski had an RBI double for a 3-1 lead.
Masterson lasted 4 2/3 innings, giving up seven hits, four runs and four walks.
Chicago starter Hector Santiago was in trouble throughout, struggling with his control from the outset and making it through only 3 1/3 innings.
He gave up two walks and an RBI single to Russ Canzler in the first. And Cleveland got two in the fourth to tie it. After a single and two more walks loaded the bases, reliever Brian Omogrosso was greeted by Jason Kipnis' two-run single.
Rottino, who entered the game in the seventh, had two homers earlier this season while with the Mets. ... The Indians left 14 on base. ... Rios' sacrifice fly gave him 88 RBIs, tying the career high he set with the White Sox in 2010. ... Cleveland SS Asdrubal Cabrera left the game after batting in the top of the first because of a midback strain. Lillibridge took over at short. ... Indians CF Michael Brantley (sore groin) was out of the lineup for the third consecutive game. After Thursday's day off, manager Manny Acta said Brantley should be ready to play Friday. ... INF Jason Donald (right hand) hit Wednesday during a simulated game and might be available for full duties Friday.