OAKLAND (CBS / AP) — Max Scherzer and his bullpen stymied that late-game swagger that carried the Oakland Athletics so many times this season.
The A’s were rattled and frustrated, and they showed it—an uncharacteristic scene for this easygoing group of AL West champions.
Scherzer overpowered Oakland’s hitters with his dominant fastball, and then baffled them with his off-speed stuff. He struck out 11 over seven dominant innings as the Tigers grabbed Game 1 of this AL division series rematch from 2012 with a 3-2 victory Friday night.
A two-run homer and an unproductive triple by Yoenis Cespedes were hardly enough as the A’s struck out a postseason franchise-high 16 times.
“This is not just about me. It depends on the team,” Cespedes said. “I was good today but the rest of the team will be good tomorrow.”
Cespedes was the only guy who could get anything going against Scherzer, the likely AL Cy Young Award winner who brought more of his best to the playoff stage.
Miguel Cabrera helped stake Detroit to an early lead before leaving in the eighth as a precaution.
Cabrera, hindered by a groin strain late in a season of injuries for last year’s Triple Crown winner, didn’t have to overextend himself on defense thanks to Scherzer’s 118-pitch gem. But he did look uncomfortable running out a grounder in the eighth.
“We won the game, I think that’s the more important thing right now,” Cabrera said. “For us, it’s not an issue. It’s no time to complain, no time to worry.”
Cabrera and Alex Avila each hit first-inning RBI singles against 40-year-old All-Star Bartolo Colon, whose winless stretch against the Tigers extended to 10 ½ years.
Scherzer had Oakland off balance from the start. The right-hander retired 16 of his first 18 batters and was nearly untouchable before Cespedes connected in the seventh for his first career playoff home run. The strikeouts were Scherzer’s most in seven postseason starts.
“Today we noticed that my fastball seemed pretty good and my changeup seemed pretty good. That’s why I thought I was able to get into a groove and pitch deep into the game because of those two pitches,” Scherzer said. “I did a good job of attacking the zone and throwing first-pitch strikes, which I pride myself in.”
Cespedes struck out in the ninth against closer Joaquin Benoit, who retired the final four batters for the save.
Benoit went right after the Cuban slugger.
“I can’t let him think of what I’m going to do. I just have to attack him,” Benoit said. “I don’t really like when it’s a one-run game trying to fool around with anybody. Either they’re going to get me or I’m going to get you.”
Leyland opted for Scherzer for the postseason opener over Justin Verlander, who goes Saturday night against 23-year-old rookie Sonny Gray in just his 11th career start. Verlander beat the A’s in Games 1 and 5 of their postseason series last October, helping Detroit survive on its way to the World Series.
The A’s missed early chances in Game 1 of the rematch—and there was little the raucous, yellow towel-waving sellout home crowd of 48,401 could do until Cespedes finally energized the ballpark.
Scherzer received an American League-best 6.80 runs of support per nine innings over his 32 starts this season, but he didn’t need anything more than those three first-inning runs in shutting down the AL West champions.
The majors’ lone 20-game winner, Scherzer (21-3) allowed three hits and walked two.
“He’s always tough, he won 21 games,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Scherzer’s a strikeout guy, he’s a swing-and-miss guy.”
Scherzer issued a two-out walk to Coco Crisp in the third, and then retired his next eight batters in order before Crisp drew a full-count free pass in the sixth. Scherzer struck out the side in the fourth and recorded two more Ks in the fifth.
Oakland had the tying run aboard in the eighth but Josh Donaldson popped out against Benoit.
“Scherzer was terrific and the bullpen came in and did a fine job,” Leyland said. “He was awfully determined. I think he was thrilled to get Game 1.”
Detroit nearly added a run in the sixth but Gold Glove right fielder Josh Reddick threw out Victor Martinez at the plate.
Colon put himself in a hole from the start, surrendering Austin Jackson’s double to lead off the game and then hitting Torii Hunter with a pitch. Cabrera singled up the middle for the first run, and then Prince Fielder grounded into a double play to bring home another. Avila added an RBI single.
Cespedes hit a one-out triple over Andy Dirks’ head in the second but Oakland was unable to drive him in.
Colon had hoped for a triumphant return to the playoff stage eight years after his last appearance with the Angels. The right-hander’s 10 hits allowed were his most in 10 career postseason starts.
“Bartolo threw an outstanding game,” catcher Stephen Vogt said. “He made a couple of mistakes early and they took advantage.”
Colon, who wasn’t part of the A’s playoffs last season while serving a 50-game suspension for a positive testosterone test, won 18 games this season but couldn’t break out of his decade-long funk against the Tigers.
The burly right-hander is winless—going 0-8 — in 14 starts against the Tigers since a victory on April 13, 2003.
Cespedes was back in left field after missing the final two regular-season games at Seattle with a right shoulder injury.
NOTES: Both catchers took hard foul tips off the mask. … The crowd was the largest at the Coliseum since 53,974 on June 27, 2004, against the San Francisco Giants. … Hunter was Colon’s first hit batsman all year. “The only ball I feel bad about is the one that hit Torii,” Colon said.
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