The first matchup of a five-game series between the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers featured an extensive early rally, quality playoff pitching, and some late inning drama, but in the end the visitors prevailed by a score of 3-2 thanks to some fantastic work by Max Scherzer and a handy performance by Detroit’s bullpen.
Scherzer pitched seven innings with 11 strikeouts, effectively quieting Oakland’s bats for most of his seven innings on the mound to lead Detroit to a 1-0 advantage in the American League Divison Series.
Bartolo Colon took the loss, allowing 10 hits over six innings with four strikeouts and no walks. Colon hasn’t beaten the Tigers since April 2003, and a rough start torpedoed his chances Friday night. With Scherzer in top form for most of the game, Oakland’s hitters were slow to adjust, and the A’s struck out 16 times — a franchise record for the postseason — as a result.
The Tigers were all over Colon in the first, with Austin Jackson leading off with a double to set the table right off the bat. When Colon hit Torii Hunter on the elbow in the second at-bat, the concern at the Coliseum was palpable, and justifiably so as Miguel Cabrera was next up at the plate.
Cabrera hit the first pitch he saw up the middle, scoring Jackson from second and advancing Hunter to third. Prince Fielder grounded into a double play in the next at-bat for the first two outs of the game, and Hunter came in to score to give the Tigers a quick 2-0 lead.
A line drive to left by Victor Martinez kept the rally alive, and Alex Avila hit a single that deflected off the gloves of Daric Barton and Eric Sogard to bring another run in, and the A’s found themselves in an early 3-0 lead with their fans wondering what just happened.
Omar Infante would ground into a force out to end the inning, but with a three-run cushion to work with, Scherzer came out and threw 14 pitches to retire the side in the bottom of the first. That set the tone for the presumed 2013 Cy Young winner, and after giving up a one-out triple to Yoenis Cespedes in the second, he locked in and kept Oakland’s hitters off balance with a mid-90’s fastball and a quality changeup for most of the night.
Colon calmed down and limited the Tigers to three hits over the next four innings, but he ran into trouble in the sixth when Martinez and Avila hit consecutive one-out singles up the middle to put two men on for Omar Infante. The second basemen got a pitch to hit, and when he lined it to Josh Reddick it seemed a foregone conclusion that one run was coming in.
Instead, Reddick showed off his Gold Glove arm, easily gunning down Avila at the plate to prevent a run and bring the fans back to their feet. Andy Dirks popped out to Josh Donaldson at third to end the rally, and the A’s headed to the bottom of the sixth looking to respond with some offense of their own.
Coco Crisp drew a one-out walk — his second of the game against Scherzer — but Jed Lowrie lined out to left on what ended up being the second best contact of the game by any A’s hitter against the right-hander. Scherzer slammed the door shut on that opportunity by getting his 10th strikeout of the game against Donaldson, and it looked like the A’s might never break through against the 21-game winner.
Dan Otero was brought in for Colon to start the seventh, and he delivered a three-up, three-down performance to give Oakland another chance to gain some ground at the plate.
Brandon Moss beat out a soft ground ball to lead off the charge, and Cespedes got a fastball over the plate on the fifth pitch of his at-bat, and he blasted it into the left field bleachers to make it 3-2 and breathe some life into the A’s offense. Scherzer retired the next three Oakland hitters to send the game into the eighth with the outcome far less certain than it was a half inning earlier.
That would be the final inning for Scherzer, and Otero and Sean Doolittle combined to work through the top of the eighth despite an odd play where Martinez doubled on a missed catch by Cespedes. Martinez’s line drive was hit right at the left fielder, and he likely lost it in the lights as he turned his head and the ball shot past his glove and to the wall. It was of little consequence, however, as Doolittle struck out Avila to finish the job.
Left-hander Drew Smyly came in to set up the final inning for Detroit, and after striking out pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo, Crisp drew his third walk of the game to put the tying run on board. Smyly struck out Lowrie and was pulled for right-hander Joaquin Benoit, who got Donaldson to pop out to third to send it to the ninth.
Doolittle shut down Detroit in the top of the ninth, but Benoit dispatched the heart of Oakland’s lineup in their final opportunity at the plate, with Moss, Cespedes and Reddick all striking out to end the game in disappointing fashion.
While it was certainly a disheartening loss that left a lot to be desired at the plate, the A’s showed real perseverance in giving themselves a chance to win at the end. Game 2 will get underway Saturday night at 6:00 PST, with Sonny Gray on the mound against Justin Verlander for the Tigers.