DETROIT Justin Verlander threw a fastball that caught a bit too much of the plate, allowing A's center fielder 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 A's 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 American League Division Series. 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.
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.
Game 2 is today, with left-hander Tommy Milone taking the mound for Oakland and Doug Fister for Detroit.
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.
After winning their final six games to take the A.L. West in shocking fashion, 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 popped out of the dugout and headed to the mound to start the game, but Crisp was unfazed. He pulled Verlander's two-strike pitch just inside the pole in right field to put the A's on top.
"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.
At the plate, the A's made Verlander work, forcing him to throw 61 pitches in the first three innings. Verlander struck out Moss to end the Oakland third with a 99-mph fastball but Verlander was having to reach back for extra velocity early.
"Most good starters, you try to get to them before they get into their rhythm," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "He got better as the game went along. A lot of times, your best opportunity is early in the game."
The A's tied a postseason record by starting four rookies Parker, Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris.
Parker looked sharp early but allowed another 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.
Verlander led the majors in strikeouts for the second straight year, and Oakland was baseball's most strikeout-prone team. It showed toward the end of Verlander's outing.
"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."