Detroit set to start quest for World Series title in Oakland on Friday
MIAMI -- The Tigers are headed back to Oakland for the AL Division Series. This time, however, they're going out there for Game 1.
With an A's loss Saturday at Seattle, the ALDS rematch everyone expected was set. Detroit will open its quest for a return to the World Series Friday night in Oakland, making its first trip to the West Coast since April.
That trip included a series win in Oakland, where the Tigers took two out of three by overpowering A's pitching by a 17-4 margin over the final two games. It was one of just three series at home that the A's lost to teams outside the American League West.
Four months later, the A's came within an inning of sweeping a four-game series in Detroit, losing the series finale thanks to a four-run ninth-inning rally capped by a Torii Hunter walkoff homer.
"We know Oakland real good," manager Jim Leyland said. "They beat up on us real good at Comerica Park last time we saw them, so we're obviously going to have to do a better job of making good pitches. They hit some good pitches and they hit some real bad pitches, and we're going to have to do a better job of pitching them. But also, we're going to have to start getting some runs."
Come next weekend, Detroit will need to win at least one game in Oakland to avoid returning home on the brink of elimination. It's a reversal of last season's Division Series, even though the A's had home-field advantage in that best-of-five series, too.
And as those Tigers who took part in last year's series remember, it's a completely different environment in October. The A's not only opened the upper deck of the Coliseum for the postseason, they sold the tickets.
The result was three decks of fans, all seemingly on top of the players. The enthusiasm was what stood out to Benoit.
"It's one of those things that we need more fans to start doing, because the Oakland fans last year, they really brought the house down," closer Joaquin Benoit said. "They really cheer for their team in the playoffs. It was really amazing. We really enjoyed the way they supported their team. It's something if every stadium did that, baseball would be way more fun."
For television reasons, last year's ALDS schedule was compressed to feature only one travel day. It was the only way Major League Baseball could fit in a Wild Card play-in game within the postseason window, and it allowed Detroit to open at home even though it had a worse record.
The Tigers won both games at Comerica Park, allowing them to head to Oakland needing to win one out of three to advance. It took them three games to get it, thanks in part to a blown save by Jose Valverde in Game 4, but Justin Verlander delivered one of the most dominant performances ever in a winner-take-all postseason game, tossing a shutout on four hits with 11 strikeouts.
They won't have that advantage this time.
Between Verlander's postseason track record and his solid road numbers this season -- including a 7-5 record, 3.38 ERA and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings -- there's a case for him to start one of the two games in Oakland despite a down season compared to teammates Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Even without last year's gem, Verlander is 5-4 with a 2.38 ERA in 10 regular-season starts at the Coliseum, allowing just 47 hits over 68 innings.
Manager Jim Leyland said he doesn't expect to announce a rotation order until the last minute. He already announced Rick Porcello would pitch out of the bullpen, but still has to decide how to sequence Verlander, AL wins leader Scherzer, AL ERA leader Sanchez and Doug Fister.
Whoever starts Friday's opener would be in line to start a potential deciding Game 5. That game, too, would be in Oakland.
"It's a tough place to play, obviously," Prince Fielder said. "Any place would be tough in the playoffs, though. That's what you expect. It's going to be fun."