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Tigers And White Sox Proving Race For AL Central Will Come Down To Wire

A strange Tuesday night only reinforced the race for the American League Central won't be over anytime soon. SB Nation Chicago's Ricky O'Donnell says you should embrace the tension of late season baseball.

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Thanks to September's expanded rosters, the Chicago White Sox are currently carrying 15 pitchers. Dewayne Wise isn't one of them. Dewayne Wise is an outfielder, the same guy who forever etched his place in franchise history with a terrific leaping catch to preserve Mark Buehrle's 2009 perfect game. Yet it was Dewayne Wise, the outfielder, who found himself on the mound on Tuesday night, securing outs No. 25, 26, 27 against the Minnesota Twins to conclude what very well might have been the most bizarre defeat in recent White Sox history.

As if Wise becoming the first position player to take the mound for the White Sox since 1995 wasn't enough, he also pitched better than any of his Chicago teammates. Wise was the sixth White Sox pitcher during the South Siders' 18-9 loss at U.S. Cellular Field, and the only one who threw more than three pitches that didn't allow a run. Wise surrendered only one hit on 12 pitches (six were strikes) in the ninth before the White Sox's offense mercifully recorded its final three outs to end the suffering.

You couldn't choose the most bugged out aspect of this game if you wanted. The Twins only scored in three innings, but it didn't matter. The White Sox hit 10 doubles, a new high watermark for the franchise, but it wasn't nearly enough. As Jim noted at South Side Sox, if you eliminate the second and fifth innings, the White Sox win the game 9-1. You expect Hawk Harrelson's birthday to get a little weird, but this was pushing it.

The final kicker: even as the Sox were getting plumbed by the now 56-80 Twins, they weren't losing any ground in the skittish race for the American League's Central Division. The Cleveland Indians, now 58-78, held on against the Detroit Tigers for their second 3-2 win in as many days, keeping the White Sox's division lead at one game.

If what transpired Wednesday didn't prove it to you, nothing will: this race is going down to the very last week.

The Central boasts three of the four worst teams in the American League, and two talented but inconsistent ones at the top. You'd think the White Sox and Tigers would be able to use so many games against such inferior competition as a means of beefing up win totals, but it hasn't happened.

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The White Sox's struggles against the Royals are well documented, and with six games remaining against Kansas City, the torture isn't over yet. Detroit has been just as uneven: the Tigers had won five of six before coming to Kauffman Stadium on Aug. 28, where the Royals promptly swept them out of town. Detroit then proceeded to sweep the White Sox. Now they're on the verge of getting swept against the lowly Indians. Playing 'up' or 'down' to the level of competition is no new phenomenon in sports, but this is starting to border on the extreme.

Baseball's regular season seems endless, but its conclusion has a way of sneaking up on you. I blame the stirring anticipation of football season, a sport that is objectively more intoxicating. But baseball isn't without its treasures, and so many of them lie in this time of the year.

It's September. There are 27 games remaining on the schedule. Only one game separates Chicago and Detroit in the Central division. The two teams have one series left, a four-game set in Chicago starting on Monday.

There is nothing that compares to the tension of Important Baseball. You live and die on every called strike, every ball hit down the line. Teams are built to succeed over the course of 162 games. When you boil it down to a month? To a best-of-seven series? That is how the '06 Cardinals win the World Series. That's why so many recent champions in baseball come out of the Wild Card slot. Important Baseball may be the only sport best watched clutching a pillow or pulling a blanket over your eyes.

Five months worth of work boiled down to a few weeks. Even as a spectator sport, baseball can be a bit exhausting. It feels like a marathon for everyone involved, from the players to the fans to the beat writers. There is no worse feeling than seeing your team blow it in the end. Just ask a Red Sox or Braves fan about last season.

It's hard to enjoy yourself with such mounting stress, but remember: this is supposed to be fun. This is how you choose to spend your leisure time, watching the White Sox struggle and struggle just to record a single out against the damn Minnesota Twins. It's the late season tension that makes baseball what it is, and the Sox have put themselves in position to subject us to all of it. It doesn't happen every season.

Embrace the consternation. Welcome the anxiety. This is when baseball starts to pay off, one way or another. The White Sox are about to make you feel something. This is when baseball is at its best.

Ricky O'Donnell is the editor of SB Nation Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at