Game 1 of this American League Division Series was really a simple thing. Bartolo Colon had nothing in the first inning, Max Scherzer offered nothing in any of his, and, well, that’s your A’s Replay for today.
For Colon, it was a simple matter of six pitches – his third, fifth, sixth, eighth, 13th and 15th of the night. They congealed nicely to produce all the offense the Detroit Tigers needed to smother the Oakland Athletics, 3-2, and may have provided the road map for this entire series – score early, and hide behind your starting pitcher.
[Instant Replay: Tigers get to Colon early, take Game 1 of ALDS]
Colon, usually a habitual thrower of fastball strikes, threw fastballs that actually weren’t in the first. The third was a stinging double down the line by Austin Jackson, the fifth was a fastball up that hit Torii Hunter, the sixth was a line drive single up the middle by Miguel Cabrera, the eighth was a run-scoring double play grounder by Prince Fielder, the 13th was a gapper to left-center by Victor Martinez, and the 15th was a sharply-hit one-hopper by Alex Avila that evaded first baseman Daric Barton.
Three runs, four hits, and drive home safely.
Of course, if you had chosen to drive home safely at that point, you would have missed Yoenis Cespedes’ two-run homer and triple. But you also would have missed the 16 Oakland strikeouts, 11 by Scherzer alone, that mooted Cespedes’ contributions and put the A’s a game to the bad in a series which is likely to be decided not by late heroics but early dominance.
“It would have been nice to get them (the Oakland hitters) going earlier in the game and try to get Scherzer’s pitch count up,” manager Bob Melvin said. “But he’s a strikeout guy, he’s a swing-and-miss guy, and they have several guys who get their share of strikeouts.”
And the A’s have a room full of guys who get theirs, at least in streaks. The A’s were only 20th in strikeouts this season, but they have lots of home run hitters with long swings, and Scherzer is the game’s most dominant strikeout pitcher, at least for the moment.
The combination, when added with Colon’s inexplicable first inning, made for a fairly cut-dried-cured-and-fried game. Scherzer allowed more than one runner on base only once, the Cespedes homer after a Brandon Moss base hit, and Coco Crisp’s three weeks all went begging.
Thus, Oakland’s flatlined opener became a chicken-and-egg debate – which came worst, Colon’s first inning or the offense’s nine?
“Well, struggle is kind of an odd word,” catcher Stephen Vogt said of Colon’s first inning. “He got a couple of pitches up, a couple down, but for the most part he pitched well. Maybe the (RBI) single to Cabrera and Avila’s hit, maybe they were up, but that was about it. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat.”
“The one pitch I felt bad about was when I hit Hunter,” Colon said. “I hadn’t hit anyone all year. But other than that, I was fairly happy with how I did, keeping it to 3-0, and 3-2 when Yoenis hit his home run.”
In other words, nine moderately uncharacteristic innings and one very uncharacteristic one undid the A’s. But the postseason is about that very thing. More often than not, it doesn’t hinge on a manager or an umpire or one shining or swinish moment. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of the woodsman’s choice -- the bear eating you, or you being eaten by the bear.
The Tigers did not dominate, but they controlled. By the time they needed to go to their bullpen, Scherzer had thrown them almost completely off their feed, and relievers Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit struck out five of the seven batters they faced, including Cespedes.
The lesson? Probably none, because every game takes on its own form. But if you had to grope for one, it may that the first team to get a boot in is likely to win the fight. Detroit had the game’s best boot in Max Scherzer, Bartolo Colon showed up one little inning late, and that, as they say, was that.
At least for one day.