Tigers-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

The last image the 2012 Oakland Athletics saw before their offseason was the Detroit Tigers celebrating Justin Verlander's dominant effort against them.

The A's will seek to avenge their two defeats to Verlander in last year's postseason Saturday night and avoid another 2-0 deficit to the Tigers.

Verlander started his team's drive to an AL pennant with a 3-1 win against Oakland on Oct. 6 but saved his best for the deciding fifth game in the division series. The right-hander tossed a four-hitter and struck out 11 in the series-clinching 6-0 victory in California on Oct. 11.

Verlander will try to duplicate that effort while giving his team another commanding playoff lead against the A's, this time with an added bonus. The first two games Detroit won against Oakland last year were in Michigan before the A's rallied to tie the series with back-to-back home wins.

A victory Saturday would give the Tigers a chance at a sweep in their return home Monday. They have an opportunity for a 2-0 lead after an early outburst in Friday's series opener.

Detroit got all three of its runs in the first inning of Friday's 3-2 win, with Miguel Cabrera and Alex Avila contributing RBI singles. Cabrera, dealing with the effects of a groin strain late in the season, was taken out in the eighth inning as a precautionary measure.

''We won the game, I think that's the more important thing right now,'' Cabrera said. ''For us, it's not an issue. It's no time to complain, no time to worry.''

Yoenis Cespedes accounted for Oakland's offense with a two-run shot off Max Scherzer in the seventh, but the A's had only one batter reach base against Tigers relievers Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit, who struck out the side in the ninth for his first postseason save.

"Scherzer was terrific and the bullpen came in and did a fine job,'' manager Jim Leyland said. ''He was awfully determined. I think he was thrilled to get Game 1.''

The A's went 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position and their hitters struck out 16 times - including three each by Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick and Daric Barton - but are optimistic they can bounce back.

"Obviously, we would have loved to take Game 1 and get the step up. At the same time, no one is worried," catcher Stephen Vogt said. "We're still in this thing. We've got a long way to go."

Verlander is 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 28 strikeouts in three career playoff starts against Oakland but enters this game after a subpar season by his standards. His 13 wins and 217 strikeouts were his fewest since 2008, and his 3.46 ERA was his highest since a 4.84 mark that same season.

Verlander, though, also finished the regular season with a streak of 13 scoreless innings.

"I've been working hard on figuring stuff out, tweaking stuff here and there because I knew I wasn't right," he said. "And I felt like the last couple (starts), I was able to get to a point where I didn't have to think about anything out there on the mound except for execution and that let me clear my mind."

The A's will counter with rookie Sonny Gray. The right-hander went 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA in the six starts before his postseason debut and 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 10 games after joining the rotation Aug. 10.

Gray, 3-1 with a 1.99 ERA in six home starts this season, is facing Detroit for the first time.

"I think he will do well. We wouldn't have put him in that spot if we didn't think so," manager Bob Melvin said. "He's pitched in some big games, whether it's in the big leagues, whether it's at school. He's been in some high-profile places and pitched in some high-profile games."

Cespedes, who also tripled Friday, is 3 for 6 with a double lifetime against Verlander in the regular season but went 1 for 6 in last year's postseason.

Coco Crisp is 8 for 24 against Verlander in the regular season but went 1 for 8 in the division series. That lone hit, however, was a solo homer.

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