Verlander beats the A's, and now his presence looms over this series

DETROIT -- Friday afternoon, hours before the Rangers' collapse was complete, an optimistic Rangers official was explaining to me how it really might have been for the best that the Rangers didn't end up winning the American League West.

The reason?

Justin Verlander.

Or more exactly, Justin Verlander twice in a best-of-5 series. The way the Rangers saw it, in a short series they were better off facing the Yankees than the Tigers because they were better off missing Verlander.

The Rangers have other problems now. Verlander is the A's problem.

The A's lost to the Tigers ace 3-1 in Saturday night's Game 1. They know he's looming out there again, in a possible Game 5 next week.

And they know that means they're left with only two ways to get past the Tigers and continue their dream season.

Option 1: Win the next three games.

Option 2: Find a way to beat Verlander.

Based on Saturday night, the A's might want to concentrate hard on these next three games.

Verlander gave up a leadoff home run to Coco Crisp, and then just two hits and no runs over the next seven innings. He struck out 11, becoming the first pitcher with double-digit strikeouts in a playoff game since he did it against the Yankees in last year's Division Series.

The Tigers were seen by many as a dangerous postseason team because the rest of their rotation is also strong (Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer will start the next three games), but in large part because Verlander is still considered the game's top pitcher.

Verlander won't repeat as the American League's Most Valuable Player, and he may not even repeat as the Cy Young winner.

But in a short postseason series, his mere presence can change the way a series feels.

Verlander wasn't even at his best Saturday. His command was poor early in the game, and the A's were patient enough that he needed 26 pitches to get through an inning, and 78 to get through the first four innings.

In typical Verlander fashion, he got stronger as the game went on. He struck out the side in the sixth, and followed up by striking out the first two A's batters he faced in the seventh.

The A's won't see him again unless this series goes five games. At this point, they'd probably rather not see him again.

But if they're going to avoid Verlander and also advance, that means winning the next three in a row.

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