White Sox 4, Tigers 2

-- The Chicago White Sox hooted, hollered and screamed like kids as they ran down a skinny hallway toward their plastic-lined clubhouse.

After flirting with one of the worst collapses in baseball history, the White Sox earned the right to douse each other with champagne.

Chicago got a clinch, not a collapse.

Paul Konerko homered to back Freddy Garcia and the White Sox held off Detroit for a 4-2 victory Thursday for their first AL Central title since 2000.

"That team worked so hard all year long, they deserve to do what they're doing now," Chicago Manager Ozzie Guillen said with champagne-slicked hair. "Finally, they can say, 'We did it!' A lot of teams made it tough on us. It wasn't easy."

Chicago had a 15-game lead in the division on Aug. 1, then saw it dwindle to 11/2 games last weekend as Cleveland closed. The White Sox survived a shaky ninth inning against Detroit to win their AL-best 96th game and will start the playoffs at home next week.

"It was a little tight at the end, but we pulled it out," Konerko said.

Chicago clinched because Cleveland can at best tie the White Sox, and no team can finish second in another division with 96 wins or more. If the AL Central is decided by a tiebreaker, it would go to the White Sox, who have an 11-5 lead over the Indians in the season series, and Cleveland would be the wild card.

"It's a great feeling," Guillen said. "This first step is a big step because a lot of people don't realize how hard it is to just get to the playoffs."

The White Sox close the regular season with three games at Cleveland.

What does the series mean?

"Nothing," said Mark Buehrle, Friday's scheduled starter.

Carl Everett's two-run triple in the first helped the White Sox win their second straight and fifth in seven games.

Garcia (14-8) allowed two runs and eight hits in seven-plus innings. "It was a big game for him," Guillen said.

After Placido Polanco's leadoff single in the eighth, Garcia was replaced by Cliff Politte, who gave up an RBI double to Magglio Ordonez that made it 4-2. Neal Cotts then struck out Carlos Pena and Bobby Jenks got Craig Monroe to ground out, ending the inning.

The White Sox had a chance to add to their lead in the ninth, but Monroe threw out A.J. Pierzynski at the plate and Pablo Ozuna hit an inning-ending groundout.

Catcher A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko, who homered in the 6th inning, begin the celebration.