The Tigers' ace had 11 strikeouts, tying his career posteason high, to take Game 1 from Oakland.
DETROIT — Justin Verlander allowed a home run to the first batter of the game — and quickly shrugged it off.
The hard-throwing ace doesn’t usually hit his stride until a bit later. This game was no exception, as Verlander went on to allow two more hits over seven innings and match his career postseason high with 11 strikeouts in Detroit’s 3-1 over the Athletics. Verlander outdueled Jarrod Parker, who allowed two earned runs in 6-1/3 innings but made a crucial error in the third inning to allow the go-ahead run in the opener of the best-of-five American League playoff series.
As usual, Verlander 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 that quieted the Comerica Park crowd of 43,323 just one batter into the game.
“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.”
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Joaquin Benoit pitched the eighth and Jose Valverde struck out two in a perfect ninth for the save to help Detroit capture its second victory in its last seven postseason series openers.
Game 2 is Sunday, with Doug Fister taking the mound for Detroit and left-hander Tommy Milone for Oakland.
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 in the bottom of the inning, however. Austin Jackson’s hard-hit ball deflected off diving shortstop Stephen Drew and into short left field. The Detroit leadoff man 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 came home 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. The Detroit ace struck out Brandon Moss to end the Oakland third with a 99 mph fastball — but Verlander was having to reach back 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, one of four rookies to start for the A’s along with Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris, looked sharp early, but his fielding mishap in the third allowed another run.
With two out and a man on second, Berry chopped a soft grounder to the right side. Parker came off the mound 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.
Alex Avila added a solo shot in the fifth to make it 3-1, and the A’s couldn’t break through against Verlander, even with the reigning MVP’s pitch count rising.
After taking a called third strike for the third out of the sixth — Verlander’s fourth strikeout in five hitters — Donaldson chirped a bit at plate umpire Jim Reynolds. Verlander was done after one more inning, finishing with 121 pitches and his fourth career postseason win.
|Oakland||100 000 000||—||1||4||1|
|Detroit||101 010 00x||—||3||7||0|
E — J.Parker (1). LOB — Oakland 7, Detroit 4. 2B — Drew (1), A.Jackson (1), Infante (1). HR — Crisp (1), off Verlander; Avila (1), off J.Parker. RBI — Crisp (1), Avila (1). SB — Berry (1). CS — D.Young (1). Runners left in scoring position — Oakland 1 (Moss); Detroit 2 (Fielder, A.Jackson). RISP — Oakland 0 for 2; Detroit 2 for 7. GIDP — Mi.Cabrera. DP — Oakland 2.
|J.Parker L, 0-1||6-1/3||7||3||2||1||5||2.84|
|Verlander W, 1-0||7||3||1||1||4||11||1.29|
|Benoit H, 1||1||1||0||0||0||1||0.00|
|Valverde S, 1||1||0||0||0||0||2||0.00|
Pitches — J.Parker 96, Neshek 8, Blevins 10, Verlander 121, Benoit 14, Valverde 11. Inherited runners-scored — Neshek 2-0. HBP — by J.Parker (D.Young). Umpires — Home, Jim Reynolds; First, Mark Wegner; Second, Dana DeMuth; Third, Eric Cooper; Right, Scott Barry; Left, Wally Bell. T — 2:56. A — 43,323.