OAKLAND – Brett Anderson and Justin Verlander missed each other in last year's American League Division Series. The A's victory in Game 3 behind Anderson's six shutout innings was sandwiched by Verlander's dominance in Games 1 and 5, the latter a shutout in Oakland that sent the Detroit Tigers into the next round.
Verlander returned to the Coliseum mound Saturday for the first time since Oct. 11, and this time it lined up for Anderson, the A's Opening Day starter, to share it with him. In fact, Anderson, who lost his footing on pitches twice in the middle innings of a A's 7-3 loss that ended the team's nine-game winning streak, attributed the slips to both pitchers sharing a landing area with their plant feet.
"Certain guys land in different spots, and we happen to land in the same spot," Anderson said. "So it created a little more of a hole than your average compared to another pitcher."
At least on this afternoon, that was pretty much where the similarities ended. Verlander, the Tigers' tall, hard-throwing ace, allowed three singles and a run in the second inning and no hits otherwise. Anderson, missing the feel of his typically reliable slider, allowed a career-high-tying three home runs and left in the sixth inning trailing 7-1.
The A's actually scored first, when Derek Norris singled to left to drive in Seth Smith. But Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter promptly tied the score when he crushed a slider from Anderson for a homer in the third, and Detroit broke it open an inning later when Prince Fielder hit a solo shot and Jhonny Peralta a three-run homer.
Anderson said he tried to bury a slider to Hunter that hung up over the plate, and "he hit it about 500 feet." ESPN issued a tweet during the game that estimated it at 463 feet, the second-longest home run in baseball this season. It landed just shy of the luxury boxes in left field.
"My slider was probably the worst it's been since I've been in the big leagues," Anderson said. "It just didn't have the same sharpness and depth on it that it usually does. But you try to battle."
The pitches Fielder and Peralta hit, on the other hand, to center field and left-center, respectively, were fastballs that caught too much plate, Anderson said. On the positive side, he said, he threw "a lot more changeups in this start than I probably ever have," and got a handful of outs with it.
"I think he got a little tired, but overall I didn't think he threw terrible," said Norris, his catcher.
The A's made Verlander work for his six innings. He threw 111 pitches, including a 31-pitch fourth that encapsulated the day. Smith and Josh Donaldson worked one-out walks. Verlander then struck out Eric Sogard swinging on a 95-mph fastball and Norris looking at a 96-mph fastball to end the inning.
"You could really tell when runners got on base he reached back and had his 95, 96 when he needed it," Norris said.
A's manager Bob Melvin, who was ejected in the eighth inning for arguing a called third strike, said Verlander pitched without his best stuff. After Verlander departed, the A's scored twice in the seventh and brought the tying run up with two outs in the eighth in pinch hitter Jed Lowrie, who struck out looking with the bases loaded.
"That's the mark of a good pitcher," Melvin said, "is when you don't have your best stuff and you still go out for (six) innings and put up a lot of zeroes."
Afterward, Verlander told reporters that it didn't immediately cross his mind that the last time he pitched in Oakland, he ended the A's season. But eventually it did.
"The fans reminded me with their boos," he said.