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 home run that quieted the Comerica Park crowd just one batter into the game.
“I was a little out of synch but was able to get some outs with guys on base and keep the score at one run," Verlander said. “The adrenaline got me a little bit early."
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 today, 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 past seven 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.
The AL Central-champion Tigers tied it immediately. Austin Jackson’s hard-hit ball deflected off diving shortstop Stephen Drew and into short left field. The Detroit leadoff man ended up with a double and went to third when Quintin Berry slapped a single to third off Donaldson, who also could only get a piece of the ball while diving for it.
Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who went hitless, grounded into a double play, but Jackson came home to make it 1-all.
At the plate, the A’s made Verlander work, forcing him to throw 61 pitches in the first three innings.