OAKLAND – The largest crowd to see a baseball game at the Coliseum in nine years waited, building and imploring, for a reason to let loose Friday night until it came in the bottom of the seventh inning. Yoenis Cespedes turned on a fastball from Max Scherzer and hit it into the seats in left-center for a two-run home run, the first sign of life from the A's offense in this American League Division Series.
On this night, though, it was also the last significant one. And with the Tigers still leading thanks to a three-run first inning, it was not enough for the A's to avoid dropping the first game of the series 3-2, despite sending their 18-game winner Bartolo Colon to the mound in front of that raucous home crowd.
For much of the evening, Scherzer, the 21-game winner and Cy Young front-runner, was simply better. Nearly a year after the curtain fell on the A's 2012 season, their playoff run began Friday amid a similar scene – a tall, right-handed pitcher with "Detroit" across his chest making Oakland's hitters look all too often overmatched. The A's struck out 16 times, their most ever in a postseason game.
Scherzer, using a mid-90s fastball with movement and hard breaking pitches, had 11 of them in seven innings – the same number Justin Verlander had in Game 5 last year – while allowing just three hits, two of them to Cespedes.
"He was putting his fastball on corners," said A's catcher Stephen Vogt. "If you've got a guy with that kind of stuff and not missing over the middle of the plate, he's going to be pretty successful."
An A's offense that led the majors in runs in September managed only Cespedes' second-inning triple until the seventh inning. Both teams were coming off four-day layoffs since the end of the regular season, but center fielder Coco Crisp said he didn't feel that played into the A's offensive sluggishness Friday.
"Scherzer just pitched a good game," Crisp said. " He tries to pitch away from everybody's strengths, and he did a good job of locating away today."
Brandon Moss led off the seventh with an infield single, and Cespedes followed with his first postseason home run, joining Rickey Henderson as the only A's to hit a triple and home run in a playoff game. Cespedes came up again with one out in the ninth but went down swinging against Joaquin Benoit, who struck out the side.
Manager Bob Melvin attributed the strikeout total to Scherzer being "a strikeout guy, a swing-and-miss guy," and said he was unsure whether he'll alter his lineup for Game 2 today against Verlander. The A's will start rookie Sonny Gray, in his 11th major-league start, hoping to avoid a 2-0 deficit before the series shifts to Detroit.
Colon took the loss despite not allowing a run after the first inning, when Melvin said the right-hander "got out of sync." One indication was when, after Austin Jackson's leadoff double, Colon hit Torii Hunter with an inside fastball. It was the first batter Colon had hit all year.
Miguel Cabrera shot the next pitch through Colon's legs for an RBI single and Prince Fielder grounded into a double play that drove in Hunter. Alex Avila later added an RBI single that snuck under Daric Barton's glove at first base.
"He left a couple pitches up, and they were being aggressive," Vogt said.
Colon had only allowed three first-inning runs once in 54 previous starts with the A's and hadn't allowed three earned runs in a start since coming off the disabled list in late August. He gave up 10 hits for the first time all year but skirted further damage with an assist from Josh Reddick, who threw out Victor Martinez at the plate from right field in the sixth on a single by Omar Infante.
Colon said he felt the pitch to Jackson was up in the zone and the fastball that hit Hunter was "the only pitch I felt really bad about. After that, I believe the rest of the pitches were good."
A snapshot of Oakland's night came in the sixth, when Crisp drew a one-out walk and, an out later, Josh Donaldson came up with chants of "MVP!" emanating from a crowd of 48,401. Donaldson struck out and, turning away from the plate, slammed his bat in frustration.
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015, and read his online reports at blogs.sacbee.com/bay-area-baseball.