OAKLAND, Calif. — What cost the Oakland A’s Friday night at O.co Coliseum was some uncharacteristic early slippage by Bartolo Colon that allowed the Detroit Tigers to spend the entire evening with the lead.
Meanwhile, Max Scherzer backed up Jim Leyland’s decision to make him the Game 1 starter as he tossed seven splendid innings and made an early three-run lead stand. The Tigers scored in just one inning — the first — but it was good enough for a 3-2 victory over Oakland to take a 1-0 advantage in the American League Division Series.
Game 2 is set for Saturday night in Oakland.
Scherzer, likely the Cy Young Award winner, struck out 11 batters in seven innings, allowing just three hits. He yielded a two-run home to Yoenis Cespedes in the seventh inning, but he followed that by getting three consecutive outs, including a strikeout of Daric Barton to end the frame.
“I thought I did a good job of attacking the zone, throwing first-pitch strikes, something I pride myself on and was able to get deep into the game,’’ Scherzer said. “Today we noticed that my fastball seemed pretty good and my changeup seemed pretty good.”
Joaquin Benoit got the last out of the eighth and then struck out the side in the ninth, as the Tigers stole home-field advantage with stellar pitching. Colon straightened up after allowing those three first-inning runs, but left after six innings.
“It looked like some balls were up,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “He settled down real nicely after that and pitched well.”
Detroit threatened to add on more runs in the sixth thanks to some generous hops and poor Oakland fielding.
Victor Martinez led off with a single to center field and then lumbered to second when Alex Avila’s hard liner bounced past the glove of former Red Sox Jed Lowrie at short. Lowrie cheated to his left and was in perfect position to field the sharply hit grounder, but it skidded past him.
Omar Infante followed with a grounder to right field and the slow-running Martinez made the ill-advised decision to try to score from second on the cannon arm of Josh Reddick.
The results were predictable. Martinez looked exhausted about 20 feet from home plate and was tagged easily by Stephen Vogt.
Colon escaped the threat by inducing an inning-ending pop out from Andy Dirks. The Tigers recorded three hits in the inning, and no runs. That would be the final inning for Colon, who allowed 10 hits with four strikeouts and no walks and the three first-inning runs.
“Bartolo is a 90 percent fastball pitcher and today he was like 60 percent; he threw a lot of offspeed,’’ said the Tigers’ Torii Hunter. “He threw me like four or five offspeed the [at-bat] I struck out on and he’s thrown me five offspeeds in five years.’’
The burly righthander had not allowed three earned runs in his previous six starts, but he was bitten badly by his slow start and he couldn’t compete with the masterful Scherzer.
Searching for any opportunity to unleash their enthusiasm, the Coliseum crowd went into a frenzy when Cespedes clubbed an extra-base hit into the left-field corner and scampered to third when the ball skidded away from Dirks with one out in the second inning.
Scherzer didn’t flinch, striking out Reddick swinging and then inducing a soft liner to first base from Vogt. The crowd again attempted to spark the home team in the third, when Coco Crisp walked with two out and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Lowrie could only respond with a meek inning-ending grounder to second base. After that, the A’s were eerily quiet as Scherzer dominated with pinpoint command and a crisp fastball. He struck out the side in the fourth, prompting MVP candidate Josh Donaldson to scream at home plate umpire Mark Wegner after a called strike three.
Scherzer then blew away Brandon Moss and Cespedes swinging to end the fourth.
Detroit took control quickly in the first. Colon never got an opportunity to get settled, allowing a flare double to right field by speedy leadoff hitter Austin Jackson. Hunter was hit on the forearm with the second pitch he saw, putting two runners on.
Miguel Cabrera, the MVP candidate battling groin and abdomen injuries, promptly spanked Colon’s fastball up the middle for a 1-0 Tigers lead while Hunter moved to third base. Colon appeared out of the jam when Prince Fielder bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to score Hunter but clear the bases. But Martinez lined a double to the left-center field wall.
Avila followed with a tricky grounder into the hole between first and second that was booted by Barton at first base to score Martinez. It was generously called a hit.
“It’s always big when you can jump out on these guys early,’’ Hunter said. “I’ve seen these guys [A’s] make some late-inning runs. It’s not even fun. When Cespedes hit that home run, I was like ‘Aww, here we go.’ ”
Scherzer responded to the early lead by retiring the A’s in order in the first inning, inducing an inning-ending grounder from Donaldson.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.