DETROIT — Justin Verlander allowed a home run to the first batter of the game — and quickly shrugged it off.
This hard-throwing ace doesn’t usually hit his stride until a bit later.
Verlander shut down Oakland after that early slip, and Alex Avila homered in the fifth inning to lift the Detroit 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 career postseason high with 11 strikeouts. As usual, he seemed stronger in the later innings, striking out the side in the sixth and the first two hitters of the seventh. That made up for Coco Crisp’s leadoff homer that quieted the Comerica Park crowd just one batter into the game.
“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.
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 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 fastball just inside the pole in right field to put Oakland on top.
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