DETROIT -- It was not just another hit for Craig Monroe, and it wasn't just one more win for the team with the best record in baseball.
Monroe's grand slam in the sixth inning lifted the Detroit Tigers to a 5-2 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night, their second victory in eight games this season against the defending World Series champions.
"It's by far the biggest one I've ever hit," Monroe said of the Tigers' first grand slam of the season. "You can't describe it -- the atmosphere, who we're playing. We downplay it and talk about it just being another series, but we know we're chasing them. They're the defending champions."
A roaring, sellout crowd would not sit until Monroe went to the top step of the dugout at Comerica Park, a rare curtain call at Detroit's home since 2000.
"It was cool because I was in the bullpen when he hit it and all I could do was look up in the crowd," said Todd Jones, who closed the game. "The fans totally erupted. I just shook my head because this is Detroit, and these fans deserve this after what they've been through."
The Tigers averaged 100 losses from 2001-2005 -- including an AL-record 119 just three years ago -- but there's no way they can hit triple digits in this stunning season. Detroit should finish with its first winning season since 1993 and might make the playoffs for the first time since 1987.
Detroit (63-31) leads the AL Central by a season-high 4½ games over the White Sox, who have the second-best record in the majors.
"We're not keeping track of how many wins we have against them," Monroe said. "We just know we're up 4½ games."
Jeremy Bonderman (10-4) allowed two runs and four hits and struck out six over 7 1/3 innings for Detroit.
Javier Vazquez (9-5) held the Tigers scoreless for five innings, but they started the sixth with four consecutive singles and Monroe followed with his 14th homer of the season for a 5-2 lead.
"It's frustrating," Vazquez said. "I threw the ball OK, even in the sixth, but they get a couple bloopers. The bases are loaded, it's 2-1, and I didn't want it to get out of hand. Then I hang a slider and they get the home run."
Chicago beat the Tigers 7-1 Tuesday night, leading some to wonder if they were simply overmatched.
"Last night, a lot of people were ready to bury us. Tonight, we're back in good graces," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "That's why you just can't get involved in that. If you do, you'll drive yourself crazy."
With the three-game series on the line, Detroit's Kenny Rogers (11-3) will face Chicago's Jose Contreras (9-1) Thursday in a matchup of All-Stars. Rogers has given up 19 runs in his last four starts.
"If we win, it is a lift for us," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. "It's not do or die, but it is important for whoever wins. Hopefully, Kenny Rogers shows up the way he has shown up the last few times, and we can take advantage."
Joe Crede and Juan Uribe hit homers to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead, but they couldn't do much else against Bonderman, who hasn't lost since May 29 and is 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA in his last nine starts.
"Bonderman was the key," Leyland said.
When Bonderman was replaced by Fernando Rodney after allowing his only walk, he tipped his hat on the way to the dugout to acknowledge a standing ovation.
Rodney completed the eighth, Jamie Walker got Jim Thome to lead off the ninth and Jones finished in a non-save situation.
Vazquez allowed five runs, seven hits and a walk while striking out five. He has given up at least five runs in his last nine starts, but he lost for just the second time during that stretch.
"The one thing he does not do is get out of the big innings," Guillen said. "He was cruising along, and then he loses his momentum. When you do that against that ballclub, you get hammered."
- Guillen doesn't expect the White Sox to make a major trade, but hopes the Tigers deal for Washington OF Alfonso Soriano. "They would have to give up (Justin) Verlander or (Joel) Zumaya," Guillen said. "I'd rather see Soriano at the plate than Verlander or Zumaya on the mound."
- Rodriguez hit a double in the first inning, extending his hitting streak to a season-high 10 games. He has at least two hits in 10 of 15 games.
- Thome was 0-for-4, ending a season-best hitting streak at 10 games, and Chicago 1B Paul Konerko ended a 15-game hitting streak against the Tigers by going 0-for-3.
- Crede has a visiting-best 12 homers at Comerica Park, followed by Konerko (11) and Thome (10).