Tigers put A's in a hole, steal home-field advantage

Donaldson: You tip your cap to a guy like Scherzer

Tigers put A's in a hole, steal home-field advantage
October 5, 2013, 12:00 am
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Tigers starter Max Scherzer struck out 11 A's batters over seven innings in Oakland's 3-2 loss to Detroit. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

BOX SCORE

OAKLAND – The A’s waited four days to get their postseason started, then it took just three-and-a-half hours for home-field advantage slip from their grasp.

There wasn’t much visible sulking in Oakland’s clubhouse after a 3-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers to open the American League Division Series. But the reality of the situation is clear, so there really was no reason for public acknowledgment.

[Instant Replay: Tigers get to Colon early, take Game 1 of ALDS]

The A’s find themselves in a hole already in this best-of-five series. They’re down 0-1 after mustering just three hits Friday night, and now they must get their bats cranking Saturday against a Cy Young winner in Justin Verlander.

And they’ll send a rookie, Sonny Gray, to the mound in his first exposure to playoff baseball. How quickly the complexion of a series can turn.

“We know how huge it is to win Game 1, especially at home,” A’s right fielder Josh Reddick said. “We wanted to go out there and beat that guy. It’s over now. We gotta worry about tomorrow and let this be a thing of the past.”

Tigers starter Max Scherzer was as good as his 21-win resume suggested, as he struck out 11 over seven innings. But nobody expected A’s hitters to be dominated so thoroughly.

They struck out 16 times – a franchise record for the postseason. They managed just six base runners total and flat out looked overmatched as Scherzer mixed a fastball that touched 98 miles per hour with a devastating changeup.

“He was putting his fastball on the corners,” A’s catcher Stephen Vogt said. “He wasn’t missing over the middle of the plate. Once you get a guy with that kind of stuff and he’s not missing over the middle of the plate, he’s gonna be pretty successful. His fastball/changeup combo is one of the best in baseball.”

So dialed in was Scherzer that it’s tough to even speculate how much a four-day layoff before the start of the ALDS might have hurt the A’s. They were the best offensive team in the majors from early August through the end of the regular season. But they looked helpless against Scherzer, and third baseman Josh Donaldson felt the layoff did play a part.

[RATTO: Nine uncharacteristic innings did in A's]

“ I felt like we were a little rusty in some areas, especially myself, having a couple of days off,” said Donaldson, who went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts as the No. 3 hitter. “You come out here (Saturday) with a positive attitude ready to win the game.”

It was a tough night in particular for Reddick and first baseman Daric Barton, who each struck out three times. The A’s started Barton at first in large part because of his defensive prowess, and starting him there means Brandon Moss shifts to DH, which keeps a hitter such as Seth Smith out of the lineup.

But even Barton’s glove betrayed him Friday. He missed on a backhanded attempt at Alex Avila’s groundball RBI single during Detroit’s three-run first. He also couldn’t pick Omar Infante’s sharp single hit his way in the sixth, although Reddick made a terrific play throwing out Victor Martinez at home on that play.

“The infield is playing hard (since the football season started),” Barton said. “It's a little quicker than normal. But we know that. I wouldn't say we had any miscues.”

They did have defensive miscues. And poor at-bats. And a shakier outing than expected from normally steady right-hander Bartolo Colon.

Colon’s first postseason start since 2005 couldn’t have begun worse. Three batters in, the Tigers already had a run. By the time Colon finished the first, the A’s were in a 3-0 hole and Detroit had all the offense it required.

The Tigers know Colon throws mostly fastballs and is always around the plate. They were aggressive early in the count in the first. That inning included Colon plunking Torii Hunter, his first hit batter of the season.

“I believe the balls in the first inning when they hit me were up in the zone,” Colon said through interpreter Ariel Prieto. “After that it was OK. The only pitch that I felt was really bad was (the one that hit Hunter). I went the whole season without hitting somebody and I hit Hunter on that one.”

It was typical of a night that hardly went as planned for the A’s.