Detroit Tigers' Torii Hunter, right, celebrates with Ramon Santiago (39) after they scored on a Prince Fielder single in the fifth inning Friday in Detroit.
DETROIT — On this night, the only thing that was going to prevent Max Scherzer from winning his 20th game was the weather.
Scherzer finally reached that elusive milestone Friday, becoming the first pitcher this season to do so when he led the Detroit Tigers to a 12-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Detroit gave Scherzer a big lead early, and he pitched six innings on a night when rain made conditions unpleasant but never delayed the game.
Scherzer, who has downplayed his win total all season, did take a moment to celebrate after the game.
“We had a nice little champagne toast,” Scherzer said. “It was definitely nice to celebrate with all your teammates, because they’re the ones who got me here.”
The AL Central-leading Tigers lowered their magic number to eliminate second-place Cleveland to three.
Torii Hunter, who had four hits for Detroit, said Scherzer was a little more excited than he was letting on.
“It means a lot to him,” Hunter said. “He was freaking happy. He was like a kid in a candy store.”
Scherzer (20-3) was making his fifth attempt at win No. 20. He had two losses and two no-decisions in his previous four starts before Friday’s victory.
Although the teams played through the rain, there was always the possibility of a rainout before the game could become official — or a delay that could have knocked Scherzer out before he could pitch the required five innings for the victory.
Detroit’s offense did its part, scoring two runs in the first, one in the second, four in the third and five in the fifth. With the rain falling and umbrellas showing up throughout the crowd, Scherzer allowed three runs and six hits. He walked one and struck out three.
The Tigers have backed Scherzer with 6.99 runs of support per nine innings this year. Victor Martinez homered Friday.
“Not many people are able to accomplish this, but at the same time, I realize why I accomplished this,” Scherzer said. “It’s everybody involved. This entire clubhouse is the reason why I won 20 games.”
Dylan Axelrod (4-10) allowed seven runs in 2 2-3 innings. Former Tiger Avisail Garcia hit a two-run homer for Chicago.
Scherzer’s previous career high was 16 wins last year, and he’s been terrific this season from the start. He began with a 13-0 stretch and remains among the front-runners for the American League Cy Young Award.
“We’ve scored some runs for him, I don’t think anybody denies that,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. “But he’s been terrific. I hope he gets (the Cy Young), but I leave that up to the guys that vote.”
Chicago right-hander Andre Rienzo was scratched because of a blister on his throwing hand, forcing Axelrod to start in his place. After a sacrifice fly by Chicago’s Conor Gillaspie opened the scoring in the first, the White Sox intentionally walked Martinez in the bottom of the inning with men on second and third and two outs. Andy Dirks followed with a bases-loaded single that scored two runs and put the Tigers ahead to stay.
Hunter’s RBI double in the second made it 3-1, and Detroit sent 10 batters to the plate in the third.
Alex Avila hit an RBI single, and Hunter’s single with the bases loaded brought home two more runs and chased Axelrod. Miguel Cabrera’s run-scoring single made it 7-1.
Axelrod hadn’t pitched since Sept. 12, and he hadn’t started since July 10, when he also gave up seven runs to the Tigers. He said he knew in advance he would be pitching Friday.
“I found out a couple of days ago and I was prepared,” Axelrod said. “I’m not going to use that as an excuse. I didn’t feel really out of sorts, I went about my regular routine. I’m used to starting so it wasn’t that big of a deal, it just didn’t work out.”
Garcia, who was traded from Detroit to Chicago earlier this season, homered off Scherzer in the fourth to make it 7-3, and the White Sox loaded the bases in the fifth before Paul Konerko hit a weak grounder for the third out.
Prince Fielder’s two-run single in the Detroit fifth was followed by Martinez’s two-run homer. Omar Infante added an RBI triple.
Garcia hit an RBI triple in the eighth to make it 12-5.
Chicago lost for the 93rd time this season, the most for the White Sox since they went 64-97 in 1976.
NOTES: Detroit’s Ramon Santiago, playing SS because of an injury to Jose Iglesias, made a nice diving catch of Adam Dunn’s line drive in the second. ... Avila struck out four times. ... Detroit RHP Rick Porcello (13-8) takes the mound today against Chicago ace Chris Sale (11-13).