Oakland, Calif. — Ever wonder if managers take time to envision an ideal first inning?
As in Tigers manager Jim Leyland maybe saying to his buddy, bench coach, Gene Lamont, “wouldn’t it be great, Geno, if we get to Bartolo Colon for three runs right off the bat?”
Ask and you shall receive, Jim.
Or better yet, don’t ask and get it anyway — a three-run first inning en route to a 3-2 Tigers’ victory over the A’s in Game 1 of their Division Series on Friday night at the raucous O.co Coliseum.
It was loud. The place was packed.
The Tigers wouldn’t let the gray ol’ yard get completely crazy, though, until late in the game when the A’s drew to within a run.
Then again, three quick runs off an opposing ace tend to quiet a crowd, especially when those runs become the insurmountable building blocks of a lead for a pitcher favored to win the American League’s Cy Young Award.
As the Tigers’ Max Scherzer is favored to do, for instance.
Scherzer knew what to do with the three runs he was handed early — meaning he knew how to protect them — but by allowing just one hit until the seventh, he also proved fully capable of doing so.
“He’s always tough,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He won 21 games. If you don’t see him often, the fastball gets on you a bit quicker because of its velocity.”
It was in the seventh that the A’s pulled to within a run on Yoenis Cespedes’ two-run home run. But to say the way Scherzer pitched until that point was outstanding doesn’t do it justice.
“Under the conditions, playoff atmosphere, good-hitting team,” Leyland said, “he was terrific.”
There were times, being the strikeout pitcher he is, that Scherzer toyed with the A’s. After four strikeouts after the first three innings, he struck out the side in the fourth — mowing down the 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup.
Josh Donaldson, looking; Brandon Moss, swinging; Cespedes, swinging.
Getting Cespedes was especially impressive because, in addition to his home run, he had a one-out triple in the second that served as Oakland’s only hit until Moss’s leadoff infield single in the seventh.
But even after Cespedes launched his two-run blast to left with a no outs, a calm and composed Scherzer retired the next three batters, hiking his strikeout total to 11 — and thereby handing the game to the bullpen with a one-run lead.
Drew Smyly struck out two of the three batters he faced and Joaquin Benoit closed it out by striking out three of the four batters he faced.
For their part, the Tigers didn’t feast upon Colon after jumping on his heater in the first — although they had 10 hits in his six innings.
“You saw balls up in the zone that you don’t normally see from him,” Melvin said of Colon’s early problems.
Nor did everything go the Tigers’ way when it looked like it had — which is another way of saying that Torii Hunter was safe when he was called out while trying to sneak a steal of second in the fifth.
Dominant pitching has a way of making bad calls inconsequential, though.
Besides, the Tigers already had this on their side: It wasn’t until Colon realized that changing speeds might be advisable that he actually did change.
By then, the Tigers’ ideal first inning was in the books — and here’s how it began: On an Austin Jackson double to right, three pitches into the game.
“Against a pitcher like Colon,” said Jackson, “you have to create some chaos early.”
Two pitches after that, but only one after he had to lean back from a close one, Hunter was hit by a pitch.
And on the first pitch after that, Miguel Cabrera gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead with a through-the-legs single up the middle — Colon’s legs, that is.
Hunter took third on the hit and scored on Prince Fielder’s double-play grounder. But just when the inning began to quiet down, to match the briefly diminishing din of the packed house (48,401), Victor Martinez doubled.
Colon had allowed only two first-inning doubles in 30 starts this season, and the Tigers suddenly had two just five batters into the game.
When Daric Barton, the A’s first baseman, didn’t get to Alex Avila’s bouncer to his right that he should have, Martinez scored from second — an all-important third run.
“He doesn’t do that often,” Melvin said of Barton.
Martinez’s second attempt to score from second didn’t go as well. He was thrown out at the plate in the sixth by Josh Reddick on Omar Infante’s one-out single to right.
In the end, it didn’t matter, though, if the Tigers led by three or four — considering who started for them.
“Without a doubt,” today’s Game 2 starter, Justin Verlander, said of Scherzer, “the best pitcher in the American League.”