OAKLAND -- The crowd was as loud as promised Friday night at the Coliseum, but it was the silence from A’s hitters that marked Oakland’s 3-2 loss to Detroit in Game 1 of the American League Division Series.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer threw a wet blanket over the AL West champs, who managed just three hits and lost their opportunity to gain control of this best-of-five series in front of the home fans.
Scherzer, the favorite for the AL Cy Young award, struck out 11 over seven innings. Other than Yoenis Cespedes’ two-run home run in the seventh inning, the A’s looked nothing like the team that ranked second in the majors in runs scored after the All-Star break.
The Tigers scored three runs – the only offense they required -- off Bartolo Colon in the first inning. That was enough to put the A’s in a hole as they send rookie Sonny Gray to the mound for Game 2 on Saturday night. They’ll either even the series or face an 0-2 deficit heading to Detroit.
Starting pitching report
Colon’s first postseason start since 2005 got off to a turbulent start from his very first hitter. Austin Jackson led off the game with an opposite field double down the right field line. Colon then hit Torii Hunter – his first hit batsman of the regular season – and Miguel Cabrera smoked an RBI single through Colon’s legs.
Two more runs scored before Colon returned to the dugout. Prince Fielder’s double-play grounder made it 2-0 and another scored on Alex Avila’s single that got past Daric Barton and Eric Sogard. It was just the second time in Colon’s two seasons with Oakland that he surrendered three runs in the first, but that was it off the 40-year-old right-hander. He wound up going six innings and gave up just the three runs despite allowing 10 hits. He struck out four and walked none.
Colon hadn’t allowed as many as three earned runs over his last six regular season starts.
Dan Otero, who earned praise from Bob Melvin before the game, retired all four batters he faced in his first playoff appearance. Sean Doolittle replaced him in the eighth and held Detroit off the board after Yoenis Cespedes had Victor Martinez’s catchable liner glance off his glove.
At the plate
Remember that pitcher the A’s roughed up Aug. 29 at Comerica Park? Scherzer was a different man on the mound Friday night. He ran his fastball up as high as 98 miles per hour, then he found the feel for his changeup as the game wore on. Oakland hitters appeared baffled whatever they saw over seven innings from the likely Cy Young award winner.
Daric Barton and Josh Reddick each struck out three times, while Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, and Cespedes all went down twice on strikes. The top four hitters in the A’s lineup – Coco Crisp, Jed Lowrie, Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss -- combined to go 1 for 13 with seven strikeouts. Through the first six innings, the A’s generated just three base runners – Yoenis Cespedes tripled in the second and Crisp walked twice.
The breakthrough came in the seventh. Cespedes sent a charge through the crowd by lining a 2-2 pitch from Scherzer deep into the left field seats to bring the A’s within 3-2. That got the gold towels waving and the “Let’s Go Oakland” chant rolling.
But it was the only burst of life from Oakland’s bats. The A’s, who scored the second-most runs in the AL after the All-Star break, struck out 16 times total in Game 1.
In the field
Two runs were already in against Colon in the first when Alex Avila’s run-scoring single to right made it 3-0. Barton made a backhanded attempt but had the ball go under his glove, and second baseman Eric Sogard failed to corral it with a sliding attempt. Had either stopped the ball, Victor Martinez wouldn’t have been able to score from second.
It was no sure-handed night for the home team. Shortstop Jed Lowrie and Barton both failed to stop hard hit, but playable, balls on back-to-back hitters in the sixth. But that Detroit rally was thwarted when right fielder Josh Reddick threw out Martinez, who tried to score from second on Omar Infante’s single.
Cespedes, after electrifying the crowd with his home run in the seventh, misplayed Martinez’s liner for a two-base error in the eighth. It wound up not costing the A’s.
The sellout crowd of 48,401 was the largest to see a baseball game at the Coliseum since June 27, 2004, when 53,974 were on hand for a game against the Giants.
The A’s rave about the poise of rookie Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67), who takes the hill in Game 2 with all of 10 career big league starts under his belt. He’ll oppose Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46), who also made his postseason debut at age 23 back in 2006. He took a no-decision against the Yankees.