With the American League's top two teams squaring off for the last time in 2013 -- or is it? -- the Red Sox know they'll hold the top spot in the AL hierarchy after Wednesday's game with the Tigers, no matter what happens.
But make no mistake, this is a game that both teams would like to take with them toward October.
With Rick Porcello toeing the rubber for the Tigers and veteran Ryan Dempster taking the ball for the Red Sox, two AL titans will meet once more in September, knowing they might meet again in October. Going in, the Red Sox are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Tigers for what would be the top seed in the playoffs.
The Tigers have already won the regular-season matchup with four victories in the seven-game series, their first season series win over the Red Sox since 2007. But Boston held tight on Tuesday night for its second win of the season over Detroit.
"We try to look at each game as its own," said Red Sox catcher David Ross. "Sometimes lineups are hot; this is definitely a deep lineup they have. Hopefully, we'll be able to figure it out. We've been doing OK all year and we've been playing a lot of hot teams for most of the year, so this is no different. … We've been one of the most consistent teams all year, and I hope it stays that way."
Porcello's history with Boston has been interesting, starting when he was a rookie in 2009 and Kevin Youkilis charged the mound against him at Fenway Park. Porcello, 1-2 with a 9.00 ERA in four career starts against the Red Sox, finally broke a winless streak against them in August 2012, but even then he allowed four runs on eight hits over 5 2/3 innings.
More in the present, Porcello has won three of his last four starts and seven of his last eight decisions, posting a 3.36 ERA over his last 10 starts. A win from him would give Detroit five starters with at least 12 victories, something just three teams have boasted in the last 10 years (2011 Rangers, 2010 Rays, 2005 Cardinals).
Dempster, meanwhile, hasn't faced the Tigers since 2006, when he was with the Marlins. The Tigers and the Yankees are the only two Major League teams he has not defeated.
Dempster is 1-1 with a 6.75 ERA in his last five starts, but he's coming off his first win since July 27.
Tigers: Cabrera returns to lineup
Miguel Cabrera was back in the lineup on Tuesday after missing three games and coming out of the previous two early with an abdominal strain. He went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
Incidentally, Cabrera is 1-for-4 with a strikeout against Dempster in his career.
• Torii Hunter, who went 1-for-4 on Tuesday, is batting .322 with 18 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs and 60 RBIs in 99 career games against the Red Sox.
Red Sox: Ellsbury, Salty ailing
Both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were held out of the lineup on Tuesday with injuries, Ellsbury with a sore left thumb and Saltalamacchia with a sore back.
Ellsbury probably will have to play through the pain the remainder of the season, although meeting Porcello might help him feel better if he's good to go on Wednesday. Ellsbury is 6-for-7 with a double and a homer against the Tigers starter.
Saltalamacchia likely will miss a few more days.
• Closer Koji Uehara has retired the last 21 batters he has faced, including setting down the side in order on Tuesday for his 17th save.
• Despite losing 10 of the last 18 games to Detroit, Boston has the Majors' best record against the Tigers since 2008 (26-16).
• The Tigers get a day off on Thursday before they continue their road trip with a weekend visit to Kansas City. The Red Sox will jump right back into action on Thursday, heading to the Bronx for a four-game series against the Yankees.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.