The Tigers opened up their playoffs with a 3-1 victor over the Athletics tonight. Ace Justin Verlander gave up a lead-off home run to outfielder Coco Crisp in the first inning. We've seen him quickly settle down after first inning problems before this year, so there was not much worry. Indeed, that would be the only run for the Athletics this evening.
Despite his final line of three hits and 11 strikeouts in seven innings, Verlander did not have his very best command today, at least not early. He walked four batters (matching his regular season high) and reached 100 pitches by the sixth inning. He went into high gear late though striking out five batters in a row in the sixth and seventh innings before yielding to set-up man Joaquin Benoit in the eighth.
There was one brief scare in the eighth when Benoit allowed a deep fly to right to Athletics outfielder Brandon Moss, but he got through the inning allowing only a single. Closer Jose Valverde then pitched a one-two-three ninth to secure the victory.
One of the things the Tigers need in the post-season this year is some offensive support for their two big guns Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. The two sluggers can't carry the line-up every night and tonight was one of those nights as they went hitless. The rest of the line-up picked them up starting with center fielder Austin Jackson who doubled and scored to tie the game in the first.
Later, second baseman Omar Infante doubled and scored on an error in the third. Finally, a fresher Alex Avila (who was completely exhausted and thus useless for the 2011 post-season) blasted an opposite-field homer in the fifth.
The other thing the Tigers need this post-season is to not throw games away defensively. They didn't do anything spectacular today, but didn't make any errors either. It was a nice clean game which pleased me as much as anything.
We don't have to wait long for game two as the two teams will meet again tomorrow at noon.