Tigers jump out early, hang on vs. A's
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Before he stepped on the mound Friday night in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer already had a 3-0 lead.
Scherzer went 21-3 during the regular season, led the American League in wins and hadn't lost a single time when his teammates gave him at least three runs.
So the Tigers were headed for an easy win?
Scherzer knew better.
After grabbing that early lead against A's right-hander Bartolo Colon, the Tigers held on for a heart-pounding 3-2 victory at the O.co Coliseum.
"That can change in a heartbeat," Scherzer said of his early lead. "Teams like the A's, they can come out and whack you around."
As it turned out, the A's hitters didn't do much damage against Scherzer. He allowed two runs and three hits in seven innings to pick up the victory. He struck out 11 and walked two.
"I thought Scherzer was locked in all night," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "He was awful determined. He was thrilled to get Game 1. I think it meant a lot to him, even though he said it didn't matter which game he pitched. And I think he responded like we expected him to respond."
The Tigers sent seven batters to the plate during their three-run first inning. Colon hadn't allowed three or more runs in the first inning all season until Friday and three runs in a game since Aug. 13.
"He's a guy that throws a lot of strikes," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said of Colon. "There's no reason to keep your bat on your shoulder with him. He's got incredible command with his fastball and sinker. We wanted to make sure that we hit the mistakes that he made with them. He made a couple. We were able to get a couple of hits in that first inning, and then you could see him really change it up, throw a lot of off-speed. When he mixes it up like that, as good as his command is, he's really tough to hit."
Austin Jackson led off the game with a double into the right-field corner, and Colon hit Torii Hunter on the left elbow with a 1-0 fastball that tailed inside. Miguel Cabrera grounded Colon's first pitch to center field for a single, bringing Jackson home and sending Hunter to third.
Prince Fielder grounded into a double play, but Hunter raced home to make it 2-0. Victor Martinez lined an opposite-field double to left center, keeping the inning going. Then Avila grounded an RBI single to right that went under first baseman Daric Barton's glove and got past a diving Eric Sogard.
Colon allowed the three runs on 10 hits in six innings in his first career postseason appearance against Detroit. He struck out four and walked none.
"Bartolo threw outstanding tonight," A's catcher Stephen Vogt said. "They took advantage, they came out really aggressive. They got on the board early, and a guy like Scherzer is going to take advantage of that. Bartolo threw an absolutely great game. I don't want to take anything away from him. That was an outstanding job by him tonight. He just made a couple mistakes early and they capitalized on them."
The A's cut Detroit's lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh when Brandon Moss reached base on an infield single and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes sent a Scherzer fastball deep into the left field seats. Scherzer retired the next three batters he faced.
Right-hander Joaquin Benoit pitched a perfect ninth, striking three for the four-out save.
"It's tough," Benoit said. "It's a one-run game, the game is on the line. Four outs. It looks like it was easy, but there's a lot of thinking that goes into it."
Scherzer had nine strikeouts in the first five innings and allowed just one hit, Cespedes' second-inning triple. He fanned one in the first, two in the second, one in the third, three in the fourth and two in the fifth.
Colon's struggles against Detroit continued. He took a no-decision in both of his regular-season starts against the Tigers this year, and he hasn't defeated them since April 13, 2003. In his past 14 games and 13 regular-season starts against Detroit, he's 0-7 with a 6.93 ERA.
The Tigers grabbed home-field advantage away from the A's, who will need to beat right-hander Justin Verlander on Saturday to avoid falling behind two games to none heading to Detroit.
"We kept fighting," Sogard said. "That's what we're going to do."
NOTES: From Sept. 14 to the end of the regular season, Cespedes started in left field only once because of tendinitis in his right shoulder, but he started in left on Friday night. ... Sogard, a left-handed hitter, got the start at second base for the A's over switch-hitter Callaspo. ... Former A's outfielder Dave Henderson, a member of the A's 1989 World Series championship team, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.