Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The Associated Press
DETROIT - Justin Verlander allowed a home run to the first batter of the game and quickly shrugged it off. He doesn't usually hit his stride until a bit later.
Verlander shut down Oakland after that, and Alex Avila homered in the fifth inning Saturday night to lift the Detroit Tigers over the Athletics 3-1 in the opener of their best-of-five AL playoff series.
Verlander allowed three hits in seven innings and matched his career postseason high with 11 strikeouts. As usual, he seemed stronger in the later innings, striking out the side in the sixth and the first two hitters of the seventh. That made up for Coco Crisp's leadoff homer.
"Early on, didn't have great control of any of my pitches," Verlander said. "But I was able to get myself out of jams that I created."
Joaquin Benoit pitched the eighth and Jose Valverde struck out two in a perfect ninth for the save.
Jarrod Parker of Oakland yielded two earned runs in 61/3 innings and took the loss.
Game 2 is Sunday, with Doug Fister taking the mound for Detroit and left-hander Tommy Milone for Oakland.
It was only the second victory for Detroit in its last seven postseason series openers. The Tigers lost Game 1 to the Yankees in the division series last year before winning in five. Detroit then lost the opener of the AL Championship Series to Texas.
After winning their final six games to take the AL West in shocking fashion, the A's made their presence felt right away in Detroit. The home crowd greeted Verlander with a roar and a sea of twirling white towels when he popped out of the dugout and headed to the mound to start the game, but Crisp was unfazed. He pulled Verlander's two-strike fastball just inside the pole in right field to put Oakland on top.
The AL Central-champion Tigers tied it immediately. Austin Jackson's hard-hit ball deflected off diving shortstop Stephen Drew and into short left field. Jackson ended up with a double and went to third when Quintin Berry slapped a single to third off Josh Donaldson, who also could only get a piece of the ball while diving for it.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who went hitless, grounded into a double play but Jackson scored to make it 1-1.
Drew finally made a diving play in the second, sprawling to his right on Delmon Young's grounder and then throwing to first for the out. At the plate, the A's made Verlander work, forcing him to throw 61 pitches in the first three innings. Verlander struck out Brandon Moss to end the third with a 99 mph fastball, but was having to reach for extra speed early.
"Most good starters, you try to get to them before they get into their rhythm," Oakland Manager Bob Melvin said. "He got better as the game went along. A lot of times your best opportunity is early in the game."
Parker looked sharp early but allowed another run in the third because of a fielding mishap. With two outs and a man on second, Berry chopped a soft grounder to the right side. Parker came to field it but with the speedy Berry hustling to first, Parker lost control of the ball with his glove hand for an error that allowed Omar Infante to score.
Avila's solo shot made it 3-1, and the A's couldn't break through against Verlander again.