August 1, 2014 at 9:21 am

John Niyo

Players stunned as deal's drama unfolds before them

Detroit — It started as a “baby buzz” in the Tigers’ clubhouse Thursday morning.

“But just a baby,” said Max Scherzer, the American League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, fresh off another dominating start the night before. “Nothing much was being said.”

Yet as the buzz grew and the rumors flew via text messages and social media — in the stands as well as in the dugout at Comerica Park — it was obvious this was no longer child’s play. This was no small thing.

No, it was a big deal, as the Tigers stunned the rest of the league — and maybe even themselves — by acquiring one of the game’s biggest names, Tampa Bay’s David Price, just minutes before the 4 p.m. trade deadline.

“I would say it’s about as big a deal as any we’ve ever made,” said Al Avila, the Tigers assistant general manager, though he stopped short of comparing it to the offseason deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit back in 2007.

And the fact that it came together so quickly — and so abruptly, for the players involved — made for a surreal scene Thursday afternoon, where the Tigers’ 7-4 loss to the White Sox quickly became an afterthought.

The news of the blockbuster three-team trade broke with the Tigers trailing, 5-4, in the top of the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and one out and a 2-2 count on Gordon Beckham, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus emerged from the dugout at 3:55 p.m.

But not to make a pitching change.

Instead, he was making a defensive substitution, with Rajai Davis bounding up the steps, headed for center field.

“Once I saw Rajai come to the top step, I pretty much knew what was going on,” said Austin Jackson, the Tigers center fielder who was dealt away by Detroit along with Thursday’s starting pitcher, lefty Drew Smyly, and highly touted prospect Willy Adames.

Pregame rumors

Jackson had heard the rumors before the game about the Tigers possibly being in the mix to land Price, the 2012 A.L. Cy Young winner. And like everyone else, he knew, too, “You’re gonna have to get something back for a guy like that.”

But knowing and doing are two different things, and as he jogged in from the outfield, Jackson admitted, “I was kind of in a daze a little bit.”

“It’s kind of a sad moment right there,” he said.

Over in right field Torii Hunter, who has been a mentor to Jackson in the last two seasons and referred to him as “my little bro” Thursday, knew almost immediately, too.

“I kind of looked at the clock and I was like, ‘Aww, shoot,” he said.

Smyly, meanwhile, was blindsided by the news.

“It’s unexpected, I didn’t see it coming,” he said, swallowing hard as he explained how he’d learned of the trade, shortly after finishing a frustrating five-inning outing.

Parents calling

“I came back to my locker and my parents and a couple of my friends were kinda blowing up my phone (texting), ‘I think you’re about to get traded. I was like, ‘What? Nah. I don’t know what you’re talking about.’”

Soon enough, he did, though, as Tigers president Dave Dombrowski entered the clubhouse to deliver the news — and yank Jackson out of the lineup.

“Dave was in the dugout and he was on the phone with the commissioner’s office and he was screaming, ‘You’ve got to get Austin off the field! You’ve got to get Austin off the field!’ ” Scherzer said. “So, I mean, it was a deadline deal.”

And it capped one of baseball’s wildest deadline days in recent memory, a day that began, coincidentally or not, with the Oakland A’s pushing in all their chips to acquire Red Sox ace Jon Lester.

The Tigers insist that move didn’t force their hand with Price. But either way, by adding an arm like this to an already formidable rotation, the front office was sending a message.

“That they want to win,” Hunter said. “I mean, David Price is a bulldog. Don’t get it twisted: We’re gonna miss (Austin) and Drew. But … David Price is a bulldog. These next two months, he’s gonna push us, he’s gonna help us. He’s gonna push some of the other guys in the starting rotation as well.”

He’s likely going to push one of them out of the rotation come October, though that wasn’t a subject anyone cared to address Thursday. (“I hope we have that problem to worry about later on,” Dombrowski said.)

Price has gone seven-plus innings in his last 13 starts. He hasn’t allowed more than three earned runs in a game since a win at Fenway Park on May 24.

“He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball,” said Justin Verlander, who surely knows he’ll face even more scrutiny in these next two months. “He’s left-handed. He’s a power pitcher, which always plays well in the playoffs. I mean, we’ve got to get there first.

“You don’t want to look too far beyond and look to the playoffs when you’re not there yet. … ”

But when asked to assess the Tigers rotation now, Verlander couldn’t help but smile. “It’s gonna be tough to beat.”

As the Tigers left the ballpark late Thursday afternoon, that certainly was the buzz.

Pitcher Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson hug after Jackson comes out of the game in the seventh inning, just before the trade deadline. / Photos by Robin Buckson / Detroit News
More John Niyo