Jake Peavy breezed through the first couple innings, striking out five straight hitters to start the game.
Then Detroit came to the plate in the third, and Peavy looked like a different pitcher.
The Tigers scored three runs that inning off the Chicago right-hander and went on to beat the White Sox 4-2 on Friday night in the opener of a big three-game series.
Justin Verlander shut down the White Sox after Detroit took the lead.
"I had good stuff, and I wanted to establish the breaking ball early and get it in their heads, but I'm not thinking about striking out a bunch of people," Peavy said. "It's really frustrating, because this was a big game, and it was a night where you want to pick your team up, and I just wasn't quite good enough. It was only a couple pitches, but that's all that it takes when you are going against that guy. You don't have any margin for error."
Detroit inched closer to the top of the AL Central. The Tigers trail the first-place White Sox by a half-game. Detroit was six back after a loss to the Chicago Cubs on June 12.
Verlander (11-5) allowed four hits in eight innings, including a two-run homer in the third by Alejandro De Aza. He struck out six and walked two. Jose Valverde finished for his 18th save in 22 chances.
Peavy (7-7) struck out seven. He went seven innings, allowing four runs and eight hits — five during Detroit's big third inning. Jhonny Peralta led off with a double but had to stay at second on Ramon Santiago's single because the ball was nearly caught on the fly by right fielder Alex Rios.
Peavy almost worked out of the jam when Austin Jackson hit into a double play, but Quintin Berry was hit by a pitch, and Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder followed with consecutive RBI singles.
"I'm sure that was a really good game to watch — two great pitchers and someone has to lose," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He really only had one mistake — the pitch to Berry just got away a little, and you really don't want to do that with Cabrera up."
Delmon Young's run-scoring double put the Tigers ahead 3-2.
Verlander cruised after that, allowing only one hit over his final five innings. Jackson hit an RBI single with two outs in the seventh for another Detroit run.
"Especially against a guy like Peavy, I knew that if I gave up much more, it's game over," Verlander said. "That's what I told myself. I said, 'All right, that's it.'"
Verlander struck out Alexei Ramirez to start the eighth, then broke Gordon Beckham's bat with a 100-mph fastball. Beckham was left holding the sawed-off handle after a foul ball. He popped out on the next pitch.
After De Aza grounded out to first for the third out, Verlander — who had covered first on the play — walked slowly back to the dugout while the sellout crowd gave him a standing ovation. He threw 121 pitches.
Verlander has pitched at least six innings in each of his last 62 regular-season starts.
Chicago's Kevin Youkilis came back after missing Thursday night's loss at Boston with a tight left hamstring. He struck out three times against Verlander and flied out against Valverde.
Valverde, who has been erratic this year, managed a 1-2-3 ninth, capped by Berry's diving catch in left field.