DETROIT — Justin Verlander threw a fastball that caught a bit too much of the plate, allowing Oakland's Coco Crisp to lead off the game with a home run.
For the first few innings, Verlander labored, his pitch count rising while his control deserted him. But the Athletics could manage only that one run, missing their best chance of the night to break through against Detroit's hard-throwing ace.
Verlander held Oakland scoreless after his early slip, and Alex Avila homered in the fifth inning to lift the Tigers over the A's 3-1 Saturday night in the opener of their best-of-five AL Division Series. Verlander matched his postseason high with 11 strikeouts.
"Early on was kind of a bit of a battle for me," Verlander said. "Just kind of found my rhythm a little bit and was able to hit my spots better, and I started throwing my breaking ball for strikes a little bit better, too."
As usual, he seemed stronger in the later innings, striking out the side in the sixth and the first two hitters of the seventh.
"Early on, didn't have great control of any of my pitches," he said. "But I was able to get myself out of jams that I created."
Game 2 is today, then the series shifts to the West Coast.
"It's always important to get Game 1. The way it is now, obviously, it's nice starting here but to play the last three games in Oakland is definitely tough," Avila said. "Every game's important, but it felt real good to get one out of the way."
It was Detroit's second victory in its past seven postseason series openers. The Tigers lost Game 1 to the Yankees in the ALDS last year before winning in five.
After winning their final six games to take the West Division, the A's made their presence felt right away in Detroit. The home crowd at Comerica Park greeted Verlander with a roar and a sea of twirling white towels when he headed to the mound to start the game, but Crisp was unfazed and pulled Verlander's two-strike pitch just inside the rightfield pole.
"He made a mistake to the first batter of the game, and then he didn't make another one all night," A's first baseman Brandon Moss said, exaggerating only slightly.
A's rookie starter Jarrod Parker looked sharp early but allowed the go-ahead run in the third because of a fielding mishap. With two out and a man on second, Quintin 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 while scooping at it with his glove for an error that allowed Omar Infante to score.
That was enough for Verlander, who was done after 121 pitches and his fourth career postseason win. He walked four.
"We battled him hard, but it doesn't even seem to matter how many pitches that guy throws," Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick said. "He just keeps coming after you with all of those pitches."
2012 Team 2012 Vs. Opp.
Team Pitcher Time W-L ERA Rec. W-L IP ERA
Oakland Milone (L) 12:0713-10 3.74 20-11 1-0 11.2 3.09
Detroit Fister (R) today10-10 3.45 13-13 0-1 6.0 1.50