By Sam McPherson
The Oakland Athletics lost Game One of their American League Division Series to the Detroit Tigers on Saturday, but you can bet they’re not really bothered by it.
Nothing gets in the head of this team, as the 2012 regular season proved. After becoming the first team in Major League history to come back from being five games down with nine to play, a mere 1-0 deficit in this best-of-five playoff series certainly isn’t going to alarm them.
But that doesn’t mean the A’s don’t know what they need to do on Sunday in Game Two, which is an early-morning start slated for 9:07 a.m. PT.
Oakland dropped the series opener, 3-1, as Detroit’s Just Verlander was … well, Justin Verlander. The reigning AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player threw seven strong innings at the A’s, striking out 11 Oakland hitters and surrendering only Coco Crisp’s leadoff home run.
The Tigers ace did walk four A’s batters, however, but Oakland couldn’t connect with the big hit — although Brandon Moss certainly gave one a ride in the eighth inning off Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit. That almost tied the game, and it illustrated how close the A’s were to winning the game despite Verlander’s best efforts.
So now the pressure is directly on Oakland in Game Two to make sure they don’t return to the friendly confines of the O.co Coliseum down two games in this series. While Jarrod Parker certainly pitched well enough to win on Saturday — giving up two earned runs over 6 1/3 innings while striking out five Tigers — it’ll be fellow rookie Tommy Milone’s task to keep the Detroit lineup silent on Sunday.
Milone will be facing Doug Fister, who used to pitch for the Seattle Mariners before being traded to the Tigers in 2011. Thus, Fister has plenty of experience facing Oakland: he’s 5-4 against them in his career, with a 2.45 ERA.
However, he lost to the A’s in his only start against them this year in May, despite giving up only one run in six innings.
Milone made two starts against the Tigers in 2012, going 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA over 11 2/3 innings.
But a lot of focus will be on the Oakland hitters in Game Two — everyone knows these A’s rookies can pitch, and after Parker’s strong effort in Game One, Milone has demonstrated he’s capable of the same. Both rookies won 13 games this year for Oakland to set a club record.
With just four hits on Saturday, the A’s offense will need to get on track at Comerica Park in Game Two. Crisp’s home run started the first game off so well, but after that, it was a struggle against Verlander.
Fister is a different kind of pitcher, yet he recently set an AL record by striking out nine straight batters in his second-to-last, regular-season start, against the Kansas City Royals, on September 27.
Oakland hitters are used to striking out, of course, but since they couldn’t get the big hit when they needed it Saturday, it’ll be more important to make sure they do get those key at-bats on Sunday.
Despite Verlander’s brilliance, the A’s had their chances:
- Seth Smith drew a one-out walk in the second inning, but Derek Norris grounded out before Cliff Pennington struck out;
- Stephen Drew doubled with one out in the third inning, but Yoenis Cespedes grounded out and Brandon Moss struck out;
- Josh Reddick led off the fourth inning with a walk, but Josh Donaldson struck out, Smith grounded out, and Norris popped out;
- Pennington singled to start the fifth inning, but Crisp flied out, Drew struck out, and Cespedes grounded out.
Pennington also got a two-out walk in the seventh before Crisp grounded out to end the inning. Clearly, Oakland was making some headway against Detroit, but in that old Earl Weaver School of Thought, the three-run home run — or even the two-run homer — never came to save the day for the A’s.
When Moss flied out to deep right after Cespedes’ one-out single in the eighth, it really was the closest Oakland got to getting the big hit.
So if the A’s lineup had their moments against Verlander, they should feel confident enough heading into Sunday’s matchup to get to Fister. The Oakland hitters will just need to make sure they convert more opportunities — or any, really — in Game Two.
Otherwise, it’ll be a long flight back to Oakland Sunday evening.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering all things Oakland A’s. His work can be found on Examiner.com.