OAKLAND -- Likely not many members of the current A's clubhouse would remember the last time the team beat Justin Verlander. Not many of them were around. It was April 16, 2011, and Oakland defeated the Detroit Tigers, 6-2, to hand Verlander his second loss. He finished the season 24-5 and won the Cy Young and MVP awards.
Verlander has faced the A's six times since then, including last year's Division Series and today's 7-3 Tigers win at the Coliseum, and his line against them has been nothing short of masterful: 6-0, 43 innings, 20 hits, 47 strikeouts, 0.63 ERA. If you don't want to do the math, that's three earned runs allowed in the six starts.
"Anytime he steps on the mound he's going to have his game," said A's catcher Derek Norris, who drove in the lone run off Verlander today with a single in the second inning. "Unfortunately for us, his game seems to fit pretty well with our lineup."
Indeed, all three of the A's hits off Verlander today were singles in the second, though they did make the right-hander work for his six innings. Verlander needed 111 pitches to get that far, issuing three walks and striking out six, and the fact that the A's were able to get him out of the game that early gave them a chance to bring the tying run to the plate with two outs in the eighth inning (pinch hitter Jed Lowrie, who struck out looking).
Seth Smith's at-bats against Verlander were particularly impressive - he singled in the second inning, drew a seven-pitch walk in the fourth and then worked a nine-pitch walk in the sixth, fouling off two full-count fastballs on the way. That fourth inning, though, pretty much summed up the day for the A's. With one out, Verlander walked Smith and Josh Donaldson, each on seven pitches. He then threw seven pitches each to Eric Sogard and Norris. Sogard struck out swinging at 95 mph, and Norris looking at 96 mph.
"I took advantage of an off-speed pitch in my first at-bat, so he threw me a lot of fastballs in my second at-bat," Norris said. "Started me off with a curveball and then came with fastballs.
"But you could really tell when runners got on base he reached back and had his 95, 96, 97 when he needed it. And then when nobody was on, he could kind of push it back and spot up a little bit better with his off-speed and locate his fastball a little better. He did a good job of keeping us off-balance."
Therein lies the challenge of facing Verlander, whom A's manager Bob Melvin said did not appear to have his best stuff Saturday and still allowed no runners past second base after the second inning. The A's had their nine-game winning streak snapped and are now 9-3.
"You probably didn't see the velocity that you normally do out of him today," Melvin said. "But he threw a lot of behind-count off-speed stuff, which he can do. And that's the mark of a really good pitcher, is when you don't have your best stuff, you still go out there for (six) innings and put up a lot of zeroes."
It didn't help the A's that they were without both Coco Crisp and Yoenis CÃ©spedes on Saturday, who are a combined 10-for-25 (including 8-for-22 for Crisp) against Verlander in the regular season in their careers. Crisp also accounted for the only run the A's scored off Verlander in 16 innings in the ALDS last year with a home run in Game 1.
The rest of the A's entered the game a combined 8-for-50 against Verlander in the regular season. Smith and Donaldson reached base in five of their six at-bats today. The rest of the A's lineup went 1-for-18.
"He was just keeping the ball away, mixing his breaking ball and his fastball, doing his job to try to keep it away from the inner part of the plate where I could drive it," said Brandon Moss, who struck out in the second inning and grounded out twice against Verlander.
"My at-bats weren't very long," Moss said. "You really try not to get to two strikes with him because he's got so many put-away pitches. Once you get to two strikes with him the odds are very low. So just try to get to him early, but it didn't work for me."
The A's play the Tigers once more this season, in a four-game series in Detroit in late August, so there's a good chance they will see Verlander again. Norris was asked if today's result, knocking Verlander out after six innings, could be seen as making strides.
"With guys like that you've just got to battle," Norris said. "Hopefully he can make a mistake and you can capitalize on it, and you can try to push a few runs across and get him out early."
-- Matt Kawahara