DETROIT – Justin Verlander allowed a home run to the first batter of the game – and quickly shrugged it off.
This hard-throwing ace doesn’t usually hit his stride until a bit later.
Verlander shut down Oakland after that early slip, and Alex Avila homered in the fifth inning to lift the Detroit Tigers over the Athletics 3-1 Saturday night in the opener of their best-of-5 A.L. playoff.
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 that quieted the Comerica Park crowd 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.”
Joaquin Benoit pitched the eighth and Jose Valverde struck out two in a perfect ninth for the save.
Oakland’s Jarrod Parker allowed two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings and took the loss.
Game 2 is today, 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.
After Crisp’s homer, the A.L. Central-champion Tigers tied it immediately. 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-all.
The Athletics tied a postseason record by starting four rookies – Parker, Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris.
Parker looked sharp early but allowed another run in the third because of a fielding mishap.
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.
Avila’s solo shot made it 3-1, and the A’s couldn’t break through against Verlander, even with the reigning MVP’s pitch count rising.
E—J.Parker (1). LOB—Oakland 7, Detroit 4. 2B—Drew (1), A.Jackson (1), Infante (1). HR—Crisp (1), Avila (1). RBIs—Crisp (1), Avila (1). SB—Berry (1). CS—D.Young (1). RLISP—Oakland 1, Detroit 2. GIDP—Mi.Cabrera. DP—Oakland 2.
|J.Parker L, 0-1||61/3||7||3||2||1||5||2.84|
|Benoit H, 1||1||1||0||0||0||1||0.00|
|Valverde S, 1-1||1||0||0||0||0||2||0.00|
IR-S—Neshek 2-0. HBP—D.Young. T—2:56. A—43,323 (41,255).