Tigers win ALDS opener behind VerlanderWritten by Nate Pentecost | | email@example.com
Having pulled off one of the most remarkable comebacks in Major League history to win the AL West on the last day of the season, the A’s were flying high coming into Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
That was before Oakland ran into reigning AL MVP Justin Verlander in playoff form.
The Tigers ace shook off a rough start Saturday night to lead the home team to a 3-1 win over the upstart A’s in the opener of the best-of-five series.
After surrendering a leadoff homerun to center fielder Coco Crisp in a 25-pitch first inning, Verlander dealt 7 innings without giving up a run, fanning 11 batters, walking four and allowing three hits. The right-hander’s 11 strikeouts made him the first pitcher in franchise history to post multiple 10-or-more strikeout games during the postseason.
“Early on I didn’t have great control with really any of my pitches,” Verlander said. “Obviously I made somewhat of a mistake to Coco to lead off the game but I was able to get some key outs after that.”
Detroit’s offense struck back in the bottom of the first with men on first and third base. A ground ball double play off the bat of Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera drove in center fielder Austin Jackson to knot the score after one frame.
The Tigers tacked on another run in the third on an error by Oakland’s rookie hurler Jarrod Parker.
After second baseman Omar Infante found the gap in left field for a double, outfielder Quintin Berry hit a dribbler down the first base side. Parker went to scoop the ball up on the run but flipped it over the bag, allowing Infante to round third for Detroit’s second run of the evening.
“I think [Parker] did the right thing,” said Oakland manager Bob Melvin. “He just bobbled it a bit. I think if he fields it cleanly and keeps going he’s got the out.”
Catcher Alex Avila, the first Tigers batter of the fifth inning, touched up Parker for his third run of the night on a hanging pitch which Avila drove to the left field bleachers.
With Cabrera (0-for-3) and first baseman Prince Fielder (0-for-4) hitless on the night, Avila and Infante provided Detroit with a much-needed boost from the eight and nine spots in the batting order. Avila finished 2-for-3 with a homerun and an RBI while Infante went 1-for-3 with an RBI. The emergent Berry (2-of-3) added a pair of hits from the two spot.
“It’s no different than the regular season,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland insisted. “You need contributions from everybody because teams are always focusing on the big guys.”
In his first career postseason start, Parker threw 6.1 innings, allowing three runs — two earned — on seven hits while striking out five and walking a batter. Relievers Jerry Blevins (.2 innings pitched, 0 earned runs) and Jerry Blevins (1 IP, 0 ER) finished up for the A’s.
“He pitched well,” Melvin said. “The [error resulted in] one run, another was on a double play ball, then he left another out over the plate to Alex and those are the three runs.”
Unfortunately for Parker and Oakland, Verlander, as he often does, pitched increasingly stronger as the night wore on.
The hard-throwing right-hander did not allow a hit after the second inning, finishing the outing by striking out five of the last six batters he faced before giving way to reliever Joaquin Benoit after the seventh.
“As the game went on I got better and better and started finding the zone a little bit more,” Verlander said. “And not just find the zone, but also throw quality strikes and execute to get guys out.”
Fans at Comerica Park were forced to hold their collective breath momentarily in the top of the eighth inning. After a single to left-center by outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, first baseman Brandon Moss hit a deep fly ball off Benoit to right field. The ball carried to the warning track but fell to the glove of Andy Dirks.
Closer Jose Valverde put the A’s down in order in the ninth to claim his first save of the postseason and seal the victory.
“It seems like there’s been some general comments that people are concerned about our bullpen. I’m not concerned about our bullpen,” Leyland said adamantly. “I have the utmost confidence in those guys. If they don’t do it, they don’t do it, but they’re our guys.”
The Tigers have an opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 series lead Sunday, Oct. 6 before the series closes out in Oakland. The first pitch is slated for 12:07 p.m.