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10/07/2012 2:35 AM EDT
Verlander overpowers A's in Detroit's 3-1 win
DETROIT 3, OAKLAND 1

By NOAH TRISTER
AP Baseball Writer

DETROIT (AP) -- Justin Verlander threw a fastball that caught a
bit too much of the plate, allowing Oakland's Coco Crisp to lead
off the game with a stunning home run.



For the first few innings, Verlander labored, his pitch count
rising while his control deserted him. But the Athletics could
manage only that one run, missing their best chance of the night
to break through against Detroit's hard-throwing ace.



Verlander held Oakland scoreless after his early slip, and Alex
Avila homered in the fifth inning to lift the Tigers over the
Athletics 3-1 Saturday night in the opener of their best-of-five
AL playoff. Verlander allowed three hits in seven innings and
matched his postseason high with 11 strikeouts.



"Early on was kind of a bit of a battle for me," Verlander said.
"Just kind of found my rhythm a little bit and was able to hit
my spots better, and I started throwing my breaking ball for
strikes a little bit better too."



As usual, he seemed stronger in the later innings, striking out
the side in the sixth and the first two hitters of the seventh.



"Early on, didn't have great control of any of my pitches,"
Verlander said. "But I was able to get myself out of jams that I
created."



Joaquin Benoit pitched the eighth and Jose Valverde struck out
two in a perfect ninth for the save. Oakland's Jarrod Parker
allowed two earned runs in 6 1-3 innings and took the loss.



Game 2 is Sunday, with Doug Fister taking the mound for Detroit
and left-hander Tommy Milone for Oakland. Then the series shifts
to the West Coast.



"It's always important to get Game 1. The way it is now,
obviously, it's nice starting here but to play the last three
games in Oakland is definitely tough," Avila said. "Every game's
important, but it felt real good to get one out of the way."



It was only the second victory for Detroit in its last seven
postseason series openers. The Tigers lost Game 1 to the Yankees
in the division series last year before winning in five. Detroit
then lost the opener of the AL championship series to Texas.



After winning their final six games to take the AL West in
shocking fashion, the A's made their presence felt right away in
Detroit. The home crowd at Comerica Park greeted Verlander with
a roar and a sea of twirling white towels when he popped out of
the dugout and headed to the mound to start the game, but Crisp
was unfazed. He pulled Verlander's two-strike pitch just inside
the pole in right field to put Oakland on top.



"He made a mistake to the first batter of the game, and then he
didn't make another one all night," A's first baseman Brandon
Moss said, exaggerating only slightly.



Verlander had two starts cut short early by bad weather in last
year's postseason. It was 49 degrees - but dry - at game time
Saturday.



The AL Central-champion Tigers, in consecutive postseasons for
the first time since 1934-35, tied it in their half of the
first. Austin Jackson's hard-hit ball deflected off diving
shortstop Stephen Drew and into short left field. The Detroit
leadoff man ended up with a double and went to third when
Quintin Berry slapped a single to third off Josh Donaldson, who
also could only get a piece of the ball while diving for it.



Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who went 0 for 3 with a
walk, grounded into a double play, but Jackson came home to make
it 1-all.



Drew finally made a diving play in the second, sprawling to his
right on Delmon Young's grounder and then throwing to first for
the out. At the plate, the A's made Verlander work, forcing him
to throw 61 pitches in the first three innings. Verlander struck
out Moss to end the Oakland third with a 99 mph fastball - but
Verlander was having to reach back for extra velocity early.



"Most good starters, you try to get to them before they get into
their rhythm," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "He got better
as the game went along. A lot of times your best opportunity is
early in the game."



The Athletics tied a postseason record by starting four rookies
- Parker, Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris.



Parker looked sharp early but allowed another run in the third
because of a fielding mishap. With two out and a man on second,
Berry chopped a soft grounder to the right side. Parker came off
the mound to field it, but with the speedy Berry hustling to
first, Parker lost control of the ball while scooping at it with
his glove for an error that allowed Omar Infante to score.



"He wasn't trying to flip it, because he was closer to the bag
than I was," first baseman Brandon Moss said. "He was just
trying to grab it and it came out of his glove."



Avila's solo shot made it 3-1, and the A's couldn't take
advantage of Verlander's rising pitch count.



"In the postseason you don't go out there and think about pitch
count and keeping it low," Verlander said. "I'm just going to be
aggressive, try to find the strike zone and throw quality
strikes, and the pitch count will take care of itself."



Verlander led the majors in strikeouts for the second straight
year, and Oakland was baseball's most strikeout-prone team. It
showed toward the end of Verlander's outing.



After taking a called third strike for the third out of the
sixth - Verlander's fourth strikeout in a five-hitter span -
Donaldson chirped a bit at plate umpire Jim Reynolds. Verlander
was done after one more inning, finishing with 121 pitches and
his fourth career postseason win.



Verlander walked four.



"We battled him hard, but it doesn't even seem to matter how
many pitches that guy throws," Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick
said. "He just keeps coming after you with all of those
pitches."



Benoit allowed a single in the eighth, followed by a flyout by
Moss that Andy Dirks caught at the wall in right field.



"I didn't think it was gone," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said.
"I thought he just missed it. And he did just miss it."



Oakland right-hander Pat Neshek, whose newborn son died 23 hours
after his birth, came on to relieve Parker in the seventh. He
entered with two on and one out but got out of the inning
without any scoring.



Oakland wore patches with the initials GJN. Neshek's son's name
was Gehrig John Neshek.



"It was really tough warming up, and I thought about him the
entire time. I said yesterday that baseball would be a way to
clear my mind, but that didn't happen. He was always there,"
Neshek said. "I know it is a cliche, but I really felt like I
had someone watching me and helping with that last pitch. That
was my best slider of the year."



NOTES: Parker allowed seven hits. He struck out five and walked
one. ... Crisp was 8 for 22 off Verlander entering but with no
homers. ... Cabrera received chants of "MVP" from the fans when
he was announced before the game. Oakland 3B Brandon Inge - a
former Tiger - was also cheered. ... Moss struck out three
times. ... Arizona started four rookies three times in the 2007
postseason, according to STATS, LLC. ... Verlander also struck
out 11 against the Yankees in last year's division series.

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