Justin Verlander was terrific for the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 of the American League Division Series. On Sunday, they try to take a commanding lead to Oakland when they play Game 2 against the Athletics at Comerica Park.
Verlander struck out 11 batters over seven splendid innings and Alex Avila went 2-for-3 with a solo home run to power Detroit to a 3-1 victory on Saturday.
"He's that bona fide No. 1 starter," Avila said of Verlander. "When he's out there, you have a really good feeling you're going to win the game. When he gets in that groove and can put the ball wherever he wants at 77 mph to 97 mph, that's just really tough for a hitter. When he's on like that, you tip your cap to him."
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.
"We're not worrying," A's outfielder Josh Reddick said. "We've done well against people all year when we've been down one game, so we're not going to fret over it, panic. We can still take one here tomorrow and go home with that. That's what we plan to do."
Getting the start for the Tigers in Game 2 will be righty Doug Fister, who is starting to resemble the pitcher who was so solid for the Tigers in the second half of last season.
Fister battled through injuries for most of the first half of this year, but was 8-4 after the All-Star break with a 2.67 ERA. Two of those wins were complete games, including a seven-hit shutout of the Twins on Sept. 22.
Quietly, his second half numbers mimicked both Verlander, who was 8-3 with a 2.73 ERA over the same stretch, and Max Scherzer, who was 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA. Overall he was 10-10 with a 3.45 ERA.
"You know, as of right now it's just a matter of there's been some ups and downs and trying to continually fine tune and take the steps in the right direction that I need to and keeping consistent," Fister said. "Coming into spring training, every year my mentality is I'm going to try to be as consistent as possible every day. And unfortunately this year I've had some injuries that have kept me out periodically."
Fister has faced the A's 11 times and is 5-4 with a 2.45 ERA against them.
Oakland, meanwhile, will rely on another rookie on Sunday in 25-year-old lefty Tommy Milone.
Milone, picked up this winter from Washington for lefty Gio Gonzalez, was tremendous for the A's this season and went 13-10 with a 3.74 ERA.
Both he and Parker set an Oakland record for most victories by a rookie.
"We want to be in big situations," Milone said. "We've done it all year. It's nothing different now. Just go out there and try to remember to play your game. You can't really do too much. For me, I can't go out there and try to throw 95 (mph). It's just not gonna work.
Milone made two starts against the Tigers this season. He beat them the first time he saw them, but Detroit rocked him in his other go-around, reaching for three runs and nine hits in 4 2/3 innings of a no-decision.
"They're good," Milone said of the Tigers. "They swing a lot, so they're really aggressive. We've just got to make pitches. We've been doing it all year, so we've just got to continue to do that ... keep it low in the zone and have them hit it on the ground."
Detroit won four of its seven regular season matchups with the A's, most recently taking two of three from them in mid-September, and outscored them 18-4 in winning the first two games.
These teams have met twice in the postseason, but this is the first meeting since the Tigers defeated Oakland in the 2006 ALCS. The A's beat the Tigers in five games of the 1972 ALCS which started a run of three consecutive world titles.
Game 3 of this series will take place on Tuesday at the Coliseum.