In the opener of a possibly pivotal four-game series, Verlander gave up one run over seven innings Monday night in a 7-1 victory over the World Series champions.
"This start alleviates my mind," Verlander said.
Detroit had lost nine of its previous 12 games and saw its division lead -- which bulged to 10 games on Aug. 7 -- dwindle to 5½ games.
Backed by Craig Monroe's two-run homer and Sean Casey's three RBI, the Tigers beat Chicago for just the fourth time in 13 games this year and boosted their margin over the second-place White Sox back to 6½ games.
"It's nice to get the first game of the series, but this doesn't set a tone against a team like that," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "It's two pretty good teams. The difference is, they have a trophy and we don't."
The White Sox have not taken full advantage of Detroit's recent slump because they have lost five of seven. Chicago leads the wild-card race by a half-game over Minnesota and four ahead of Boston.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen downplayed the significance of the series before and after the game.
"When you're managing the team, you've got to go low key," he said.
Verlander (15-6) got his first victory since Aug. 1, giving up five hits. Mark Fidrych, who won 19 games in 1976, is the only Detroit rookie with more victories than Verlander in the last 50 years.
He had been 0-3 with a 9.88 ERA this season against the White Sox.
"Against everybody else, I was doing well," Verlander said. "The numbers were drastically different against them. That was a team I had to focus on. I worked on not tipping my pitches, but the biggest adjustment was the pitches I made."
Jose Contreras (11-6) gave up seven runs for the second straight game, allowing eight hits, a walk and hit two batters in five-plus innings.
"He was wild," Guillen said. "When you don't pitch good against this ballclub, that's what happens."
Contreras is 2-6 starting with a July 14 loss against the New York Yankees that ended his regular-season winning streak at 17 decisions.
Jermaine Dye's career-high 34th homer put Chicago ahead in the second, but the Tigers went in front for good in the home half on RBI singles from Ivan Rodriguez and Casey. Monroe's homer made it 4-1 in the fifth.
Detroit chased Contreras by leading off with two singles and Casey's two-run double, then Brandon Inge followed with an RBI single to make it 7-1.
"We beat one of the best pitchers in baseball," Leyland said. "If he was at his best, we might not beat him."
The Tigers became the first team in baseball with 80 wins, the most they've had since 1993 -- the last time they had a winning record. Detroit lost an average of 100 games the previous five seasons, including an AL-record 119 in 2003.
"It's nice to be a part of this because I was around four-plus years of the other stuff," Jones said.
- 2B Neifi Perez made his debut with the Tigers, who acquired him from the Cubs on Sunday for a minor league catcher. Leyland expects Perez to be a regular ahead of Omar Infante while Placido Polanco (shoulder) is on the DL. "I loved him in 1999 (with the Colorado Rockies) and I still love him," Leyland said. "He's got energy."
- During Contreras' slide, he had his first career shutout Aug. 11 against the Tigers. He was 3-1 with a 1.45 ERA in his four previous starts against them.
- The Tigers optioned INF Ramon Santiago to Triple-A Toledo, placed RHP Roman Colon (neck spasms) on the 15-day DL and recalled RHP Colby Lewis from Triple-A Toledo.
- Monroe's homer was his 37th at Comerica Park, tying Carlos Pena's record at the ballpark, which opened in 2000.
- The game drew 39,278, Detroit's 17th sellout in 27 games.
- Verlander's 15 wins are the most by a Tiger since Willie Blair had 16 in 1997.