The Tigers got the scoring going early, jumping on Bartolo Colón in the first inning for a 3-0 lead. Austin Jackson led off the game with a double and, after a Torii Hunter HBP, Miguel Cabrera cashed Jackson in with an RBI single. Prince Fielder grounded into a double play, but Hunter scored, and Victor Martinez followed up with a double. Alex Avila brought home the Tigers’ third run of the inning with an RBI single and Omar Infante grounded into a fielder’s choice to end the inning.
More after the cut
That was all the scoring until the seventh inning, when Céspedes smacked a massive two-run shot to bring the A’s to within one. The homer was one of only two or three mistakes Scherzer made all night, he was just that good. Scherzer and Avila went to the fastball early, throwing 67% of them to the A’s hitters, and powering through the lineup before turning to offspeed and breaking stuff later on. Via Tigers Prospects, Scherzer threw 72 fastballs, 44 for strikes, and got 10 whiffs. Of the 35 changeups he threw, he also got 10 whiffs. The Tigers as a staff struck out the A’s 16 times, postseason franchise records for both teams. The Tigers’ previous postseason strikeout high came in game 1 of last year’s ALDS, when Justin Verlander and two relievers combined for 14 strikeouts.
Jim Leyland, who has at times shown he isn’t afraid to turn to his best reliever late, especially in the playoffs, brought closer Joaquín Benoit into the game in the eighth inning with to preserve the 3-2 lead. Benoit promptly induced a pop up to first to end the inning, and then struck out the side in the ninth to cinch the victory. After the game, Leyland said if there had only been one out, he would have turned to Alburquerque; since there were two outs, he went with Benoit.
Oakland wasn’t without their chances. In the second inning, Céspedes hit a one-out triple but the A’s couldn’t bring him in. They also threatened a bit in the eighth, putting the tying run on base, but Benoit shut down the rally. It really was a story of the pitching, for both sides. And, as we all know, pitching wins championships.
Justin Verlander (13-12, 3.46 ERA) will go for the Tigers in game 2, while Oakland sends out rookie Sonny Gray (5-3, 2.67 ERA).
The Tigers have never faced Gray, who might have the advantage early on. He made 10 starts this year, throwing 64 IP while giving up only 22 runs, 51 hits, and 20 walks, along with 67 strikeouts. Gray was considered one of Oakland’s top young pitching prospects, and won a starting spot in the playoffs by virtue of his strong performance in those ten starts.
Game time will be at 9:07pm EDT, on TBS.