Jackson generating excitement in DetroitFormer Yankees prospect has energized the Tigers
Exhilaration and anxiety became one in the soul of Yankees general manager Brian Cashman the night of December 9, 2009 at baseball’s annual winter meetings in Indianapolis. He and the Yankees front office were cheering after the acquisition of All-Star center fielder Curtis Granderson from the Tigers – and sobbing having to surrender prized outfield prospect Austin Jackson as part of a three-team, seven player deal. It was the classic production over potential trade with the Yankees receiving a sure-thing in Granderson, who despite coming off a down season in the Motor City was an All-Star, and projected to be the glue of New York’s outfield and a power threat taking full advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short porch.
The price was right, but also hard, for homegrown starting pitcher Ian Kennedy was packaged and sent to Arizona. Letting Jackson go was particularly tough. He was named Baseball America’s best 12-year-old player in the country in 1999 and snatched in the eighth round (259th overall) by the Yankees in the 2005 MLB Draft. He was a blossoming flower and poised for a long look the following spring – before Cashman pulled the trigger.
"We're excited about what we're getting, and we're distraught about what we gave up at the same time," Cashman said that evening in Indy. "It's not like I'm doing handstands. It's a tough decision. You're trading the future for here and now."
The total package was three teams and seven players, and it’s turned one of those rare instances where it’s worked out for everybody. Granderson has played a deft center field, and once hitting coach Kevin Long helped him figure out how to hit left-handers he belted 41 homers in 2011 to finish fourth in AL MVP voting, and had 29 this season entering Monday night. Kennedy went 21-4 last year to place fourth in NL Cy Young voting and is currently 10-8, 4.15 (4-1, 3.78 in the second half).
Then there’s Jackson, who at age 25 is delivering a breakout season for the Tigers, who host the Yankees for a four-game series this week on YES. Jackson’s 4-for-6 game (with two triples) in Detroit’s comeback victory over the Indians on Sunday was a microcosm of what he’s done in 2012. He takes a .322 average with 11 homers, 49 RBIs, 68 runs scored, 10 steals, a .409 on-base percentage and a flair for the dramatic into what could be a preview of either the Division or League Championship Series.
The Tigers trailed the Tribe, 8-5, with two outs and nobody on in the 10th inning. Following two straight walks, Jackson double home a run to set up Miguel Cabrera’s two-run walk-off bomb that gave the stripes their eighth straight victory at Comerica Field, where they are 14-1 since July 4.
Cabrera played hero, but he immediately bestowed the honor to Jackson, who has been front and center of the Tigers’ resurgence. Detroit is 32-18 since Jackson returned from the disabled list and he’s been the hot sparkplug who has helped trim the Tigers’ AL Central deficit to 1.5 games behind the White Sox.
"Jackson, I think, he was the key and the hero of the game," Cabrera said. "He kept us in the game offensively and gave us a chance to go out there and do our thing."
This week may not be the last time Jackson attempts to wreak havoc on his former organization. If the season ended today, the Yankees would host the White Sox in the ALDS, and the way the Tigers have performed this summer a third DS meeting between New York and Detroit – the Tigers bounced the Yankees from the first round in 2006 and 2011 – is a real possibility.
Jackson’s evolution makes the Tigers a tough out, but Cashman can take solace that Granderson hasn’t been too shabby either. With both men at their peak, they may push an ordinary outer-division matchup into a budding rivalry. If that happens, Cashman and Yankees fans could join hands when exhilaration and anxiety become one yet again.
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