Justin Verlander pitched Saturday night with a steady rhythm and dispatch that he never attained in last year's post-season after his first playoff start was aborted by rain after one inning.

He took the Tigers a long way toward victory in Game 1 of the A.L. Division Series with Oakland. Verlander allowed no runs and two hits after Coco Crisp's leadoff homer in the first, and he struck out 11 and left with a two-run lead after 121 pitches and seven innings.

And then manager Jim Leyland, as he said he would before the game, brought in Joaquin Benoit for his normal lead-protecting role in the eighth, even though Benoit has faltered lately and, in the longer haul, has allowed 13 homers since June 30. He almost gave up another, but Andy Dirks caught Derrick Moss's bid for the game-tying drive at the right-field wall. That capped quite an 0-for-4 for Moss, who fanned all three times up against Verlander.

Jose Valverde finished off Oakland in the ninth, and the Tigers won, 3-1. To take the series, the A's must take the next three games or overcome Verlander in Game 5.

The one damper on Saturday night's euphoria is a screwball-throwing left-hander from the Baltimore Orioles named Mike Cuellar. In Game 1 of the 1969 World Series, Cuellar faced the "Miracle Mets" and stifled them, 4-1. But he didn't douse them. The Mets won the next four games to take the World Series. Keep that in mind as Doug Fister pitches for the Tigers today against Tommy Milone, who is that species of pitcher that has most often slowed this year's Tigers: a left-hander.

The A's took the field Saturday as perhaps the most remarkable and unexpected entrant in the post-season since the '69 Mets. And like the '69 Mets, the A's are stocked with strong young pitching. Rookie right-hander Jarrod Parker -- "a really talented kid," Leyland said beforehand -- might have matched Verlander if not for a few balls the A's got gloves on.

Parker is from near Ft. Wayne, the city in basketball-mad Indiana where the Pistons played before they moved to Detroit. And at a key moment Saturday night, Parker committed a baseball equivalent of dribbling the ball out of bounds.