OAKLAND -- When you are as used to winning as the Oakland Athletics were over the course of their nine-game winning streak, it must come as a surprise when things don't quite go their way. Frustrations boiled over on the field as the Detroit Tigers led by ace Justin Verlander defeated the A's 7-3.
Verlander threw six innings of one-run ball against the A's on Saturday and struck out six batters. He was only a fraction of the problem, as Oakland's hitters ended up racking up 13 strikeouts, six of which were called third strikes from home plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
"It definitely looked like there was some inconsistencies," A's catcher Derek Norris said. "What you're looking for in an umpire is consistency, no matter how big or small the strike zone is."
A's manager Bob Melvin was ejected in the eighth inning after arguing balls and strikes. Brandon Moss was visibly upset over a called third strike before Melvin was tossed, and Moss wasn't the only hitter that took objection to Fletcher's strike zone.
"It was kind of brewing as the game went along," Melvin said. "It was pretty well documented what I think. At the same time, you don't want to make excuses."
The incident happened with Verlander already out of the game and appeared to spark the A's offense initially. The A's loaded the bases after Melvin was sent to the showers early, but another strikeout ended the inning, when pinch hitter Jed Lowrie looked at a called third strike.
Still, the skipper's quick defense of his hitters left an impression.
"That felt good because it's one of those times when obviously in the moment you are frustrated and want to express yourself," Moss said. "It's good to know he has your back and we're trying to get going in the late innings."
"He's awesome," Moss added. "Everyone knows that."
Verlander is now 5-0 in his last five starts against the A's. Over that span, he has allowed three runs in 35 innings. Two of those starts came in the American League Division Series, and effectively ended the A's 2012 season. In front of a sell-out crowd at the Oakland Coliseum, the A's did their best to get revenge, but fell short.
A's starting pitcher Brett Anderson struggled opposite Verlander. He allowed seven runs over 5 2/3 innings and gave up a career-high tying three home runs to the Tigers' potent offense. Anderson, who injured the thumb on his pitching hand in his previous start, was pitching on an extra day of rest and didn't believe the injury effected him.
The A's took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a Derek Norris RBI single, but it was short lived.
"It didn't go very well, obviously," Anderson said. "I never really got in a rhythm. When you score a run against one of the best pitchers in the game, you try to have a shutdown inning and I gave up probably one of the biggest bombs I've given up in my life."
The bomb he was referring to came off the bat of Torii Hunter on an 0-2 slider that the Tigers' right fielder drove over the left field bleachers, almost hitting the suites. Anderson's go-to pitch is usually his slider, but he struggled with it all day.
"My slider was probably the worst it's been since I've been in the big leagues," Anderson said. "It just didn't have that same sharpness and depth that it usually has."
Anderson said he didn't think it was a mechanical issue that led to trouble with his his best pitch. On the bright side, he found some success with his change-up, a pitch that he worked on during the spring.
Prince Fielder gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead with a solo home run and Jhonny Peralta hit a three-run homer off Anderson in the fourth inning. Both of those homers came against the fastball.
Despite being down to one of the best pitchers in baseball, the A's offense kept battling. They scored two runs in the seventh inning on a Chris Young double, and loaded the bases in the eighth inning.
"It doesn't matter who we are facing, we're going to try to win the game," Moss said. "We're not going to lay down just because of who we're facing."
Despite the loss, the A's are still 9-3 and off to one of their best starts in franchise history. The nine-game winning streak matched their longest streak of 2012, and is the second longest such that took place in April in Oakland history.
They will have an opportunity to begin a new streak on Sunday in the rubber match of the series with the Tigers.