The Oakland Athletics' remarkable 2012 season has been highlighted by impressive comebacks. They'll have to make another one to extend it.
Justin Verlander struck out 11 batters over seven splendid innings and Alex Avila went 2-for-3 with a solo home run to power the Detroit Tigers to a 3-1 victory over Oakland in Game 1 of their American League Division Series from Comerica Park.
Verlander (1-0) gave up a home run to Coco Crisp to begin the contest, but yielded just two hits afterward while working around four walks for the AL Central champion Tigers. The 2011 AL Cy Young Award recipient's strikeout total matched a career-high for a postseason appearance.
Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde finished off the win with a scoreless inning each as Detroit shut down the red-hot A's, who completed an improbable rally from a 13-game deficit in the AL West to overtake Texas for the division title. The A's won their final six outings of the regular season and swept a three-game set from the Rangers to close out the schedule.
"We did a lot of good things tonight," Tigers manager Jim Leyland remarked. "It was a nice clean game for both teams, really, and a good baseball game, good playoff game."
Jarrod Parker (0-1), one of 12 rookies on Oakland's 25-man roster for this series, allowed three runs -- two earned -- and fanned five over 6 1/3 innings.
The young right-hander also committed a costly fielding error in the bottom of the third that allowed the Tigers to score the eventual deciding run.
With the score tied 1-1 and Detroit's Omar Infante at second, Parker pounced off the mound to retrieve Quintin Berry's tapper to the first-base side, but lost control of the ball as he sprinted towards the bag to record what would have been the inning's final out.
An alert Infante, who had reached on a one-out double, crossed the plate without a throw to put the Tigers in front.
"That was a key play," A's manager Bob Melvin admitted. "I think [Parker] did the right thing. He just bobbled it, juggled it a little bit on the way to the base. If he fields it cleanly and keeps going, he gets the out."
Oakland would put the leadoff man on without a further threat in each of the next two innings, and Avila extended the margin to 3-1 with an opposite-field blast on Parker's first offering of the fifth.
Verlander cruised from there, striking out the side during a 1-2-3 sixth and beginning the seventh with two more punchouts to match his personal best in a playoff start, set during an eight-inning stint in Game 3 of Detroit's ousting of the New York Yankees in last October's ALDS.
Other than Crisp's homer -- a line-drive shot to right on a 1-2 Verlander pitch that gave Oakland an instant 1-0 lead in the top of the first -- the Athletics had only one runner reach second base the entire night. That came in the third, when Stephen Drew doubled with one out but was left stranded.
"I left some guys on base, through my own fault, but was able to make pitches and get myself out of the jams I created," Verlander said. "And then as the game went on, got better and better and started finding the zone a little bit more, and not just finding the zone but [throwing] quality strikes and was able to execute and get some guys out."
The Tigers would answer Crisp's shot with a run of their own in their half of the first.
Austin Jackson hustled out a double on a hard smash that deflected off the glove of shortstop Drew to start things off, and Berry followed with an infield single to put runners at the corners for the dangerous Miguel Cabrera.
Parker would induce a double-play grounder from the AL Triple Crown winner, but Jackson crossed the plate to quickly tie the game at 1-1.
Game 2 will take place Sunday in Detroit with a 12:07 p.m. (et) first pitch. Doug Fister is slated to toe the rubber for the Tigers, with Oakland sending another rookie to the hill in 13-game winner Tommy Milone.
Crisp became the fourth player in A's history to lead off a postseason game with a home run and first since Ray Durham did so against Boston in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS ... Parker is the third Athletics rookie to start a postseason contest, joining Barry Zito (2000) and Joe Bush (1913) ... Verlander led all AL hurlers with a 1.65 earned run average at home during the regular season while going 9-2 in 15 Comerica Park starts ... Oakland reliever Pat Neshek got the final two outs of the seventh inning in his first game action since the sudden death of his newborn son, Gehrig, on Wednesday ... The Athletics' last postseason appearance came against Detroit in the 2006 ALCS, in which the Tigers registered a four-game sweep.