The Oakland Athletics will try to counter all that by sending - who else? - a rookie to the mound."We've been the `David' all year," A's right-hander Jarrod Parker said. "I think obviously it's a role and an image that we've kind of taken on and been able to embrace and it's fun."
Parker will start against Detroit ace Justin Verlander in Game 1 of the division series Saturday night. The AL Central-champion Tigers are making their second straight playoff appearance, but Oakland emerged as one of the game's biggest surprises by winning the AL West.
Now the A's have to contend with Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera - the Detroit third baseman who might win the American League MVP after Verlander took the award last year."We know we've got a great ballclub. We know what we have in the clubhouse," Cabrera said. "We know we're going to face a very hot team like Oakland. They play unbelievable baseball right now."
Cabrera hit .330 with 44 home runs and 139 RBIs to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1967. But he wasn't the only big story in the closing days of the regular season. The A's rallied to win the AL West, edging Texas by one game when they beat the Rangers on the final day.
Not bad for a team that had the lowest opening day payroll in the majors. Oakland got 56 homers and 54 wins from a cast of rookies that included Parker (13-8) and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes . Rookie left-hander Tommy Milone , who matched Parker with 13 wins, is slated to start Game 2."Obviously with Verlander going Game 1, you've got to be on your game," Parker said. "We have a lot of left-handed bats that are hot right now, and I think that's one thing we've got going for us."
Outfielder Josh Reddick , one of Oakland's left-handed hitters, hit 32 home runs this year.
The series will start with two games in Detroit, where the weather can be a factor this time of year. In 2006, the Tigers swept the A's in the AL championship series, and there were snow flurries at Comerica on a workout day between games. It rained a bit Friday, but the forecast for Saturday looked clear.
That was good news for Verlander (17-8), the powerful right-hander who had two playoff starts cut short by rain last year."I saw a little bit of rain today, but I saw actually on my Twitter of all places that it's not - no rain in the forecast for tomorrow," Verlander said.
Verlander led the majors in strikeouts this year, and Max Scherzer - Detroit's Game 4 starter - finished second. That could be an asset for the Tigers, especially since Oakland struck out more than any other team. Detroit hasn't been very good defensively in 2012, but if the A's aren't making consistent contact, it might not matter.
The Tigers are expected to start Doug Fister in Game 2, followed by Anibal Sanchez . Scherzer, who was bothered by a right shoulder issue down the stretch, threw four innings in the regular-season finale Wednesday - after twisting his right ankle two nights earlier in the celebration after Detroit clinched the division. The Tigers are content to wait until Game 4 to start him."The Scherzer situation - coming off a little bit of the ankle situation and the shoulder - we decided that would be the best way to go," Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. "It would also - just by pitching him, Sanchez in front of Scherzer - would keep Sanchez from keeping off too long."
The A's begin the postseason days after the death of reliever Pat Neshek 's newborn son. Neshek is back with the team for this series."As soon as I got out there and started playing catch, it takes your mind off all the bad stuff," Neshek told reporters. "It's a good way of healing. . I don't think we'll ever get over it, but this is a good way to put the pieces back together."
|September 25, 2012||Coco Crisp||Day-to-Day||Eye infections|
|September 19, 2012||Brett Anderson||Day-to-Day||Left game - strained right oblique|
|September 05, 2012||Brandon McCarthy||Day-to-Day||Left game - head injury|
|September 02, 2012||Brandon Inge||Day-to-Day||Dislocated right shoulder|
|September 02, 2012||Brandon Inge||60-Day DL||Strained right shoulder|
|August 18, 2012||Jordan Norberto||15-Day DL||Left shoulder tendinitis|
|September 28, 2012||Octavio Dotel||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right biceps|
|September 27, 2012||Max Scherzer||Day-to-Day||Right deltoid strain|
|September 18, 2012||Max Scherzer||Day-to-Day||Left game - right shoulder fatigue|
|September 16, 2012||Austin Jackson||Day-to-Day||Sore left ankle|
|September 11, 2012||Ryan Raburn||15-Day DL||Strained right quadriceps|
|August 23, 2012||Doug Fister||Day-to-Day||Tightness in right groin|
DETROIT (AP) -- Justin Verlander threw a fastball that caught a bit too much of the plate, allowing Oakland's Coco Crisp to lead off the game with a stunning home run.
For the first few innings, Verlander labored, his pitch count rising while his control deserted him. But the Athletics could manage only that one run, missing their best chance of the night to break through against Detroit's hard-throwing ace.
Verlander held Oakland scoreless after his early slip, and Alex Avila homered in the fifth inning to lift the Tigers over the Athletics 3-1 Saturday night in the opener of their best-of-five AL playoff. Verlander allowed three hits in seven innings and matched his postseason high with 11 strikeouts.
"Early on was kind of a bit of a battle for me," Verlander said. "Just kind of found my rhythm a little bit and was able to hit my spots better, and I started throwing my breaking ball for strikes a little bit better too."
As usual, he seemed stronger in the later innings, striking out the side in the sixth and the first two hitters of the seventh.
"Early on, didn't have great control of any of my pitches," Verlander said. "But I was able to get myself out of jams that I created."
Joaquin Benoit pitched the eighth and Jose Valverde struck out two in a perfect ninth for the save. Oakland's Jarrod Parker allowed two earned runs in 6 1-3 innings and took the loss.
Game 2 is Sunday, with Doug Fister taking the mound for Detroit and left-hander Tommy Milone for Oakland. Then the series shifts to the West Coast.
"It's always important to get Game 1. The way it is now, obviously, it's nice starting here but to play the last three games in Oakland is definitely tough," Avila said. "Every game's important, but it felt real good to get one out of the way."
It was only the second victory for Detroit in its last seven postseason series openers. The Tigers lost Game 1 to the Yankees in the division series last year before winning in five. Detroit then lost the opener of the AL championship series to Texas.
After winning their final six games to take the AL West in shocking fashion, the A's made their presence felt right away in Detroit. The home crowd at Comerica Park greeted Verlander with a roar and a sea of twirling white towels when he popped out of the dugout and headed to the mound to start the game, but Crisp was unfazed. He pulled Verlander's two-strike pitch just inside the pole in right field to put Oakland on top.
"He made a mistake to the first batter of the game, and then he didn't make another one all night," A's first baseman Brandon Moss said, exaggerating only slightly.
Verlander had two starts cut short early by bad weather in last year's postseason. It was 49 degrees - but dry - at game time Saturday.
The AL Central-champion Tigers, in consecutive postseasons for the first time since 1934-35, tied it in their half of the first. Austin Jackson 's hard-hit ball deflected off diving shortstop Stephen Drew and into short left field. The Detroit leadoff man ended up with a double and went to third when Quintin Berry slapped a single to third off Josh Donaldson , who also could only get a piece of the ball while diving for it.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera , who went 0 for 3 with a walk, grounded into a double play, but Jackson came home to make it 1-all.
Drew finally made a diving play in the second, sprawling to his right on Delmon Young 's grounder and then throwing to first for the out. At the plate, the A's made Verlander work, forcing him to throw 61 pitches in the first three innings. Verlander struck out Moss to end the Oakland third with a 99 mph fastball - but Verlander was having to reach back for extra velocity early.
"Most good starters, you try to get to them before they get into their rhythm," Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. "He got better as the game went along. A lot of times your best opportunity is early in the game."
The Athletics tied a postseason record by starting four rookies - Parker, Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes and Derek Norris .
Parker looked sharp early but allowed another run in the third because of a fielding mishap. With two out and a man on second, Berry chopped a soft grounder to the right side. Parker came off the mound to field it, but with the speedy Berry hustling to first, Parker lost control of the ball while scooping at it with his glove for an error that allowed Omar Infante to score.
"He wasn't trying to flip it, because he was closer to the bag than I was," first baseman Brandon Moss said. "He was just trying to grab it and it came out of his glove."
Avila's solo shot made it 3-1, and the A's couldn't take advantage of Verlander's rising pitch count.
"In the postseason you don't go out there and think about pitch count and keeping it low," Verlander said. "I'm just going to be aggressive, try to find the strike zone and throw quality strikes, and the pitch count will take care of itself."
Verlander led the majors in strikeouts for the second straight year, and Oakland was baseball's most strikeout-prone team. It showed toward the end of Verlander's outing.
After taking a called third strike for the third out of the sixth - Verlander's fourth strikeout in a five-hitter span - Donaldson chirped a bit at plate umpire Jim Reynolds. Verlander was done after one more inning, finishing with 121 pitches and his fourth career postseason win.
Verlander walked four.
"We battled him hard, but it doesn't even seem to matter how many pitches that guy throws," Oakland outfielder Josh Reddick said. "He just keeps coming after you with all of those pitches."
Benoit allowed a single in the eighth, followed by a flyout by Moss that Andy Dirks caught at the wall in right field.
"I didn't think it was gone," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "I thought he just missed it. And he did just miss it."
Oakland right-hander Pat Neshek , whose newborn son died 23 hours after his birth, came on to relieve Parker in the seventh. He entered with two on and one out but got out of the inning without any scoring.
Oakland wore patches with the initials GJN. Neshek's son's name was Gehrig John Neshek.
"It was really tough warming up, and I thought about him the entire time. I said yesterday that baseball would be a way to clear my mind, but that didn't happen. He was always there," Neshek said. "I know it is a cliche, but I really felt like I had someone watching me and helping with that last pitch. That was my best slider of the year."
NOTES: Parker allowed seven hits. He struck out five and walked one. ... Crisp was 8 for 22 off Verlander entering but with no homers. ... Cabrera received chants of "MVP" from the fans when he was announced before the game. Oakland 3B Brandon Inge - a former Tiger - was also cheered. ... Moss struck out three times. ... Arizona started four rookies three times in the 2007 postseason, according to STATS, LLC. ... Verlander also struck out 11 against the Yankees in last year's division series.