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October 10, 2011
The stage for the 2011 postseason was set long before Opening Day. Go back to '09, when three teams shuffled seven players in a trade that—unlike the playoffs—sent everyone home happy
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October 10, 2011

Movable Feast

The stage for the 2011 postseason was set long before Opening Day. Go back to '09, when three teams shuffled seven players in a trade that—unlike the playoffs—sent everyone home happy

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Since the changes, Granderson has hit 55 homers in 214 regular-season games, including 16 against lefthanders this season, the most by any lefty batter against lefties in the past four years. Still, the Tigers have no regrets about making The Trade because of the haul they got in return: Austin Jackson, Scherzer, Schlereth and Coke. Jackson, 24, has been a budding superstar since he was 12 years old, when the Yankees began filing scouting reports on the seventh-grader from Denton, Texas. Yankees scout Mark Batchko pulled away from a game his son was playing to check out the cacophony Jackson was generating on a nearby field with a three-home-run performance. Jackson is still a work in progress and, given his on-base percentage this year (.317) and strikeouts (181), ill-suited for his leadoff role, but Detroit will gladly wait for his tremendous skills to blossom. "I told him he doesn't have to act like a leadoff hitter," Leyland says. "What I want him to be is aggressive and not think like he should take pitches all the time."

While Jackson seemed overwhelmed by his first postseason (he was 0 for 8 in Games 1 and 2 of the ALDS), Scherzer made an immediate and historic impact. On Sunday he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning—helped by a brilliant over-the-shoulder catch by Jackson in the first inning—and left in the seventh after pitching two-hit, shutout ball. Only two previous visiting pitchers had beaten the Yankees in a postseason game while shutting them out over at least six innings with as few as two hits: Cliff Lee of the 2010 Rangers and Warren Spahn of the 1958 Braves. "What you saw today was why he has a chance to do things only the elite pitchers in this game do," said Detroit catcher Alex Avila after the win. "His stuff is electric. It's only a matter of throwing strikes."

Scherzer, 27, throws a fastball that sizzles at up to 97 mph, a wicked changeup and a temperamental slider that sometimes betrays him. A first-round pick by Arizona in 2006, he always was held in high regard even though his unorthodox mechanics—his head snaps downward sharply upon his release—made the Diamondbacks wonder if he was ill-suited for surviving the wear and tear of being a starter and would be better off as a premier reliever. However, after two solid seasons in Detroit (he was 15--9 with a 4.43 ERA this season and 12--11, 3.50 in 2010), Scherzer is one of only 31 pitchers to make 30 starts in each of the past three seasons. Only six of those starters are younger than he is (Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Yovani Gallardo and Trevor Cahill).

In Game 2, Scherzer showed he was resilient as well as durable by escaping a potential calamity in the first inning: two on, two outs and a 3-and-1 count to Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira. Scherzer fired a 94-mph fastball to get Teixeira to pop up. "For me, believe it not, I was very calm, relaxed in the first inning," Scherzer says. "I thought I was slowing down my motion. I made the adjustment of getting fired back up and picking up my tempo so I could continue to have a feel for my fastballs. Once I was able to do that, that's when I started executing pitches a lot better."

Arizona covered the loss of Scherzer with the acquisitions of Kennedy and, later, Hudson, both of whom were jettisoned by win-now, big-market clubs who didn't have time to finish off their development. Kennedy, now 26, struggled in parts of three seasons at the major league level with the Yankees before suffering an aneurysm in May 2009. After the season he repaired to the Arizona Fall League. The Diamondbacks scouted every one of his starts there while The Trade was in the works.

Kennedy had made such a little imprint in the big leagues (in 14 games and 12 starts he was 1--4 with a 6.03 ERA) that when The Trade was announced and a reporter asked Arizona catcher Miguel Montero about the team's new pitcher, his response was, " 'Ian Kennedy? Who's that?' I've never even heard of him.

"So I Googled him, and he had a 6 ERA," Montero recalls. "I was like, holy s---. Good trade."

Kennedy won 21 games this year and established himself as a fierce competitor on the mound, a trait that may have backfired on him in Game 1 against the Brewers. He twice was burned by not walking a batter with a base open and two outs—once with No. 8 hitter Jonathan Lucroy batting with the pitcher, Gallardo, behind him, and later with slugger Prince Fielder at the plate. In the sixth inning Lucroy drove in a run with a bloop single. (Kennedy, showing no remorse, told The Arizona Republic, "It was a guy who can't really hit and Gallardo can swing it a little bit.")

When Fielder batted with a runner on second in the seventh, manager Kirk Gibson visited Kennedy on the mound to discuss their options. The righthander did not intentionally walk a batter all year, and he was not about to start. Fielder promptly smoked a game-busting two-run shot, giving Milwaukee a four-run lead on the way to a 4--1 win. "I just felt bad," Gibson said. "I made a poor decision. And sometimes that's how the game goes."

After a 9--4 loss on Sunday in which Hudson was roughed up for five runs in 5 1/3 innings, the Diamondbacks needed to win three straight elimination games to survive. Meanwhile, their trading partners from the 2009 winter meetings, the Tigers and the Yankees, split two soggy games in New York with New York second baseman Robinson Cano (a franchise postseason record-tying six RBIs in Game 1) and Detroit first baseman Miguel Cabrera (a home run, three hits, three RBIs in Game 2) going at it like Lincoln and Douglas, as if arguing who was the better pure hitter. It was a riveting debate, not unlike trying to figure out which division champion got the better of The Trade two years ago.

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