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 stunning 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 Athletics 3-1 Saturday night in the opener of their best-of-five AL playoff. Verlander allowed three hits in seven innings and 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,” 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.