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 on Friday night 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.
“Today we noticed that my fastball seemed pretty good and my changeup seemed pretty good. That’s why I thought I was able to get into a groove and pitch deep into the game because of those two pitches,” Scherzer said. “I thought I did a good job of attacking the zone and throwing first-pitch strikes, which I pride myself in.”
Cabrera, hindered by a groin strain late in a season of injuries for last year’s Triple Crown winner, didn’t have to overextend himself on defense thanks to Scherzer’s 118-pitch gem. But he did look uncomfortable running out a grounder in the eighth.
“I think he tried to kick it in a little bit and it looked like it bothered him,” manager Jim Leyland said. “I wasn’t very comfortable taking him out of a one-run game, but there was a little bit more to it.”
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 10½ 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.
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.
“I don’t get caught up in the hoopla, where I’m pitching,” Scherzer said.
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.
“He’s always tough, he won 21 games,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Scherzer’s a strikeout guy, he’s a swing-and-miss guy.”
Red Sox 12, Rays 2
BOSTON — Jon Lester allowed three hits in 7 2-3 innings and the Boston Red Sox took advantage of poor Tampa Bay defense in a five-run fourth to beat the Rays on Friday in Game 1 of the AL division series.
Lester gave up a pair of solo homers into the Monster Seats, but he got the lead back when the Rays fell apart in the fourth. One ball fell between two outfielders, another took a bad hop off the Green Monster standings, one batter reached safely on a dropped third strike and another when pitcher Matt Moore was slow to cover first.
By the time it was over, the Red Sox were ahead 5-2 and on their way to the early lead in the best-of-five series. Game 2 is on Saturday at Fenway Park.
Braves 4, Dodgers 3
ATLANTA — Mike Minor pitched six strong innings, Jason Heyward had a two-run single and the Atlanta Braves held on for a victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night, evening the NL division series at one game apiece.
The Braves turned three double plays, the most important coming to end a Dodgers threat in the seventh with Atlanta clinging to a 2-1 lead. Luis Avilan got it started by backhanding Carl Crawford’s grounder to the mound.
Hanley Ramirez drove in all three Dodgers runs with a first-inning double and a two-run homer in the eighth, just clearing the wall after a one-handed swing off David Carpenter.
Craig Kimbrel walked two in the ninth but fanned Crawford for the save. Backup catcher Gerald Laird helped, too, throwing out pinch-runner Dee Gordon in a close play at second base.
Pirates 7, Cardinals 1
ST. LOUIS — Rookie Gerrit Cole gave up two hits in six dominant innings and drove in a run, Pedro Alvarez had a two-run homer and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the St. Louis Cardinals to even their division series at a game apiece.
After taking advantage of several Cardinals mistakes for a convincing win, the Pirates head home for Game 3 at PN Park, where fans raucously celebrated Pittsburgh’s return to the postseason.
Wild-card winner Francisco Liriano faces Cardinals right-hander Joe Kelly on Sunday.