The Detroit Tigers pulled out a win in the opener of this best-of-five series thanks to a dominant performance from one of the game's best pitchers.
The Oakland Athletics could be hard-pressed to even things up with another tough matchup against Doug Fister in store.
Fister takes the mound opposite Tommy Milone as Detroit and visiting Oakland square off Sunday in Game 2 of the AL division series.
Though the A's struck first behind Coco Crisp's leadoff homer, that proved to be all the offense they could muster against Justin Verlander in Saturday's 3-1 loss. Alex Avila went 2 for 3 with a homer while the reigning league MVP and Cy Young Award winner matched his career postseason high with 11 strikeouts, shutting down an Oakland team that won its final six regular-season games.
"I think every postseason game has a feeling of a must-win game," Verlander said. "Obviously especially the home ones you want to win, but we know 2 and 3, the first one's a big one, especially in a short series... Hopefully we win (Sunday) and we just gotta win one in Oakland."
The Tigers have to be feeling good about giving the ball to Fister, who's gone 8-4 over 15 starts since the All-Star break while compiling a 2.67 ERA - the seventh-lowest mark in the majors over that stretch.
Fister struck out a season best-tying 10 - including an AL-record nine in a row - during a 5-4 win over the Royals on Sept. 27, then gave up three runs over 4 1-3 innings Tuesday in a 4-2 loss at Kansas City the day after Detroit clinched.
Acquired from Seattle prior to the 2011 trade deadline, Fister posted mixed results during last year's postseason. After surrendering six runs over 4 2-3 innings during a 9-3 road loss to the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the ALDS, he recorded a 2.19 ERA in winning his next two outings.
"Obviously you got some energy that may be a little different than the regular season. But it's still the same game," he said when asked what he learned from that experience.
"There's some ups and downs and some trials that you've gone through for the full year, but when it comes down to it in the playoffs, that's when it's the most exciting."
In his only matchup versus Oakland this season, Fister scattered five hits and struck out eight over six innings of one-run ball during a 3-1 road loss May 12, dropping to 5-4 with a 2.45 ERA over 11 career starts against the A's.
"They've got a great lineup over there and somebody you have to respect," he said.
After fellow rookie Jarrod Parker lost Game 1, Milone will do his best to help Oakland regroup. While the left-hander's 4.83 road ERA pales in comparison to his 2.74 mark at home, he's gone 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA over his last eight starts as the visiting pitcher.
"We feel comfortable wherever he pitches," manager Bob Melvin said. "I think this ballpark (in Detroit) is a lot like ours and it's fairly big - use a big part of the ballpark and pretty deep to center field and the gaps here."
Milone is 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in two outings against Detroit, yielding two runs over seven innings of an 11-4 home win May 11 before giving up three runs, nine hits and three walks in 4 2-3 innings of a 12-4 victory at Comerica Park on Sept. 20.
"I just know that they're really aggressive," he said of the Tigers. "They're going to swing the bat. So you just gotta make good pitches. I feel like last time we were here I gave up a lot of hits, leaving balls up in the zone.
"So just make good pitches, keep them low, have them hit the ball on the ground and give our defense a chance to make plays."
Milone will need to be wary of Miguel Cabrera, who hit .330 with 44 homers and 139 RBIs to win the first Triple Crown since 1967. Despite going 0 for 3 in Game 1, Cabrera is batting .289 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 12 postseason games dating to last year.
Prince Fielder, meanwhile, went 0 for 4 on Saturday and is batting .179 over 16 career playoff games.
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