OAKLAND, Calif. >> Max Scherzer overpowered Oakland with his dominant fastball, then baffled the Athletics with his off-speed stuff.
Scherzer struck out 11 over seven dominant innings, Miguel Cabrera helped stake Detroit to an early lead before leaving in the eighth, and the Tigers held on to beat the A’s 3-2 tonight in the opener of their AL division series rematch.
The only guy who could get anything going against Scherzer was Yoenis Cespedes — and that wasn’t enough the way the likely Cy Young Award winner was pitching.
Cabrera and Alex Avila each hit first-inning RBI singles against 40-year-old All-Star Bartolo Colon, whose winless stretch against the Tigers extended to more than 10 years.
Scherzer retired 16 of his first 18 batters and was nearly untouchable before Cespedes hit a two-run drive in the seventh for his first career playoff home run. The strikeouts were his most in seven postseason starts.
Cespedes struck out in the ninth against closer Joaquin Benoit, who retired the final four batters for the save.
Manager Jim Leyland chose Scherzer over Justin Verlander, who goes in Game 2 on Saturday night against 23-year-old rookie Sonny Gray in just his 11th career start. Verlander beat the A’s in Games 1 and 5 of their postseason series last October.
The A’s missed early chances in a rematch of last year’s playoff matchup that Detroit survived on its way to the World Series — and there was little the raucous, yellow towel-waving sellout home crowd of 48,401 could do until Cespedes finally energized the ballpark.
Scherzer received an American League-best 6.80 runs of support per nine innings over his 32 starts this season, but he didn’t need anything more than those three first-inning runs in shutting down the AL West champions.
The majors’ lone 20-game winner, Scherzer (21-3) allowed three hits and walked two.
Scherzer issued a two-out walk to Coco Crisp in the third, and then retired his next eight batters in order before Crisp drew a full-count free pass in the sixth. Scherzer struck out the side in the fourth and recorded two more Ks in the fifth.
Oakland had the tying run aboard in the eighth but Josh Donaldson popped out against Benoit.