During the regular season the Detroit Tigers' pitching staff led the American League in strike-outs by a healthy margin. That power pitching was on display en force on Friday night, as Max Scherzer and a duo of Tigers' relievers dominated the Oakland A's in the Tigers' 3-2 win. The Tigers struck-out 16 A's hitters and allowed just three hits and three walks (all to Coco Crisp).
Bartolo Colon is the veteran of the A's staff, but he looked jittery in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers, and it proved costly. The first three runners reached and Colon would allow three runs and four hits before the inning came to an end. He would settle down over his next five innings, scattering six hits and allowing no further damage.
"It looked like balls were up, couple of balls not hit hard, a couple of balls hit hard," A's manager Bob Melvin said of Colon's rough first inning.
"We've said often, too, the starting pitcher is the most vulnerable early in the game. But he settled down and pitched well."
Colon didn't receive much support from his infield defense, as at least three balls got through during his outing that probably should have been fielded. However, Colon did receive a boost from right-fielder Josh Reddick, who threw out Victor Martinez trying to score from second on a single in the sixth inning.
If there were any doubts as to who should have started Game One of the ALDS for the Tigers, those were quieted early, as Scherzer dominated the A's. He struck-out 11 over seven innings and only one hitter – left-fielder Yoenis Cespedes – got to Scherzer all night. In Cespedes' first at-bat of the evening, he lined a triple over the head of left-fielder Andy Dirks, who misplayed the bounce off of the wall. The A's couldn't push Cespedes across, however, and Scherzer breezed through innings three through six, allowing only one other runner to reach as far as second base.
"Tonight I came in with fastballs and change-ups and curveballs to the lefties to help slow them down, and made some pitches with the curveball in some situations to help generate some outs," Scherzer said.
"I thought I did a good job attacking the zone, throwing first-pitch strikes."
In the seventh, Scherzer was still up, 3-0, when he faced Brandon Moss to lead-off the inning. Moss looked over-matched all night, but he hit a tapper just past Scherzer's glove and even the wizard-like Jose Iglesias at short couldn't throw Moss out. Cespedes then took a 2-2 fastball from Scherzer way out of the ballpark, bringing the A's back to within 3-2 and the crowd of 48,401 to a frenzy.
"It got to 2-2 and I didn't know what pitch to go with, and I thought if I went with my fastball, I could make him chase away," Scherzer said.
"That pitch caught too much of the plate and he took it deep and that's just something that happens."
Cespedes gave back some of the A's momentum in the top of the eighth when, with two-outs, he appeared to lose a sinking line-drive hit by Martinez in the lights. The ball glanced off of Cespedes' glove and went for a two-base error. Reliever Sean Doolittle would get Cespedes off the hook, however, striking out Avila swinging to end the eighth.
Scherzer would leave after seven, but the A's were unable to score on Detroit set-up man Drew Smyly. Smyly sandwiched strike-outs of pinch-hitter Alberto Callaspo and shortstop Jed Lowrie around a walk to Crisp. Tigers' All-Star closer Joaquin Benoit came in and got Josh Donaldson to pop out to end the eighth with Crisp still on first base. Lowrie, Donaldson and Moss – the A's two-three-four hitters – combined to go 1-for-12 with six strike-outs and one infield hit.
Doolittle would work a quick one-two-three inning, giving the A's a chance in the bottom of the ninth with their four, five and six hitters coming up. Benoit didn't flinch, however, striking out Moss, Cespedes and Reddick to end the game.
The Tigers' pitching staff was the story of the game, with Scherzer, Smyly and Benoit allowing just six base-runners the entire game. They struck-out 16, with the key strike-out coming in the second inning when Reddick was up with Cespedes on third and one-out. The A's would fail to score in the inning.
The A's hitters haven't been as prolific in the strike-out category this season as they were in 2012, but they have been prone to strike-outs against hard-throwers.
"We tend to strike out some. We've been a little bit on and off with that over the course of the season," Melvin said. "Scherzer is a strikeout guy, he's a swing and miss guy, and they have several pitchers that get their share of strikeouts. But early in the count, you take some bigger swings, maybe later in the count, you cut it down, try to put it in play.
"But Scherzer and Benoit strike out a lot of guys."
The A's will now face a must-win game on Saturday night, as they will send rookie Sonny Gray to the mound against former AL MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander. The A's will be looking to avoid going down 0-2 in the series for the second straight year.