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Scherzer superb as Tigers top A's for Game 1 victory

Righty fans 11 over seven innings; three-run first inning key in win
October 4, 2013

OAKLAND -- The Tigers' postseason plan isn't complicated, and it isn't a secret. Jim Leyland laid it out Friday afternoon as their playoff drive was about to begin. "It's pretty simple, really," the Tigers' manager said. "We've got to figure out how to score some runs, and we've got to

OAKLAND -- The Tigers' postseason plan isn't complicated, and it isn't a secret. Jim Leyland laid it out Friday afternoon as their playoff drive was about to begin.

"It's pretty simple, really," the Tigers' manager said. "We've got to figure out how to score some runs, and we've got to figure out how to shut them down."

Save for a Yoenis Cespedes home run, it worked pretty well to script. And after Max Scherzer's seven innings converted a three-run opening inning into a 3-2 win over the A's to open the American League Division Series on Friday night, the Tigers are hoping the rest of the best-of-five set proves the same way.

The Tigers have not lost a postseason series under Leyland's reign as manager after winning Game 1. That includes two series sweeps after winning the first two games on the road. Justin Verlander, who shut out the A's here in Game 5 of last year's series, will take the mound in Game 2 Saturday (9 p.m. ET, TBS) to try to put them in position to clinch the series in Detroit next week.

Most likely, they'll try the same formula to get there.

"We want to do the same thing. Every day's not going to be the same," said Miguel Cabrera, whose RBI single opened the scoring in a three-run first inning that provided all of Detroit's offense. "The important thing is we feel comfortable with any pitcher we have on the mound."

Scherzer's ability to chew up innings made Friday's opener a much easier opening night for the Tigers. In the process, Scherzer made a statement: There was a lot more to his potential Cy Young Award-winning season than 21 wins and just three losses.

"He was awful determined," Leyland said. "He was thrilled to get Game 1. I think it meant a lot to him, even though he said it didn't matter which game he pitched. And I think he responded like we expected him to respond."

It was Scherzer's usual result when he gets his usual early run support. However, from the raucous sellout crowd creating a canyon of noise to an A's team increasingly desperate to create offense, it was far from a usual outing.

The same Tigers offense that topped three runs just once over its final seven games in the regular season, including three runs total in a three-game series at Miami, produced three runs by the time Scherzer took the mound. It did nothing to quiet the crowd, but it did plenty to spark the Tigers.

Scherzer, meanwhile, denied the early ignition for an A's offense that roughed him up in August at Comerica Park. If not for Cespedes, there would have been no spark at all.

Not only was Cespedes' second-inning triple over left fielder Andy Dirks the lone hit Scherzer allowed over the first six innings, it was the only ball the A's hit out of the infield until the fifth. In between were ground balls and strikeouts, the latter in abundance.

The same A's lineup that swung and missed just eight times against him at Comerica Park five weeks ago did so 20 times on Friday, seven times in the first few innings alone. Instead of a 29-pitch bloodletting in the first inning like August, Scherzer needed just 14 to get through the opening frame this time.

Four A's struck out the first time through the order. The next time through, Scherzer fanned four in a row from the fourth inning into the fifth, three of them on offspeed pitches.

"I threw strike one tonight," Scherzer said. "I looked inside and I was 18 of 26 [first-pitch strikes], and that's always a good percentage. I thought I had a great changeup tonight. I thought that was the difference. I was able to keep them off balance, and it allowed me to pitch deep into the game."

He wasn't simply pitching deep, he was cruising. Once he sent down AL MVP candidate Josh Donaldson swinging to end the sixth inning, he had 10 strikeouts, tying his career postseason high. But two swings from the A's brought the crowd back to life in the seventh.
The first was a slow roller from Brandon Moss that nearly saw shortstop Jose Iglesias duplicate his tumbling highlight throw from August. Only a high throw prevented what would've been an acrobatic out. The second, from Cespedes, left nothing for Dirks to do but stand and watch a two-run homer sail well into the left-field seats.

"You don't look for that, it just comes," Cespedes said. "He threw me a strike, I just tried to hit it, and it went out."

The 95-mph fastball over the plate, after Cespedes had fouled off back-to-back pitches, was Scherzer's one regret of the night.

"I didn't know what pitch to go with, and I thought if I went with my fastball, I could make him go away," Scherzer said. "That pitch caught too much of the plate and he took it deep, and that's just something that happens."

Suddenly, a shutout bid was a one-run game, and the Tigers' bullpen was on alert. With the crowd of 48,401 at fever pitch, however, Scherzer regrouped to retire the A's in order, capped by a changeup past Daric Barton for Scherzer's 11th strikeout of the night.
For Scherzer, who calls his final 15 pitches his biggest each game, his final 13 took Friday's game back.

"The wheels could have come flying off," Scherzer said, "but I thought I kept my composure and was able to continue and execute."
"Those last 15 pitches mean a lot, and when you can do it in the postseason, that means even more."

In this case, it meant the game. Once Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit took care of the final six outs, it meant momentum in the series, just as the Tigers had scripted.

"This," Leyland said, "is playoff baseball. It was a great game."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.