The Chicago White Sox had the bases loaded, with Gordon Beckham at bat. The count was two balls and two strikes. The Detroit Tigers suddenly decided to make a change — not at pitcher, but in center field.
The Tigers were frantic about it. Their general manager was in the dugout, on the phone with the commissioner's office. If the Tigers could not get Austin Jackson out of center field in the final minutes before Thursday's trade deadline, they could not complete a trade for David Price.
"You've gotta get Austin off the field!" General Manager Dave Dombrowski yelled, according to reports from Detroit. "You've gotta get Austin off the field!"
Brad Ausmus, the Tigers' manager, hurriedly sent Rajai Davis out to center field. Jackson rushed toward the dugout.
Dombrowski celebrated by sending a mischievous text message to Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics. Beane had started the day by trading for Jon Lester and now, with the deadline a few ticks away, Dombrowski had countered by trading for Price.
"You have 1 minute to acquire Chris Sale," Dombrowski jokingly texted Beane, according to mlb.com.
Sale remains the ace of the Chicago White Sox. However, the A's had added the ace of the Boston Red Sox to the deepest starting rotation in the American League, and the Tigers had added the ace of the Tampa Bay Rays to a rotation that now boasts the last three AL Cy Young Award winners.
Would the A's and Tigers have made the playoffs without Thursday's trades? Of course, but that was not the point. After all, the Dodgers appear headed to the playoffs too.
"The question that we asked ourselves is, 'What gives us the best chance of winning a world championship this year?'" Dombrowski said.
That is what drove the A's and Tigers on Thursday, to the detriment of the Angels and to the possible detriment of the Dodgers.
The Angels could do nothing about Lester or Price. They already had made the best moves they could, with the modest organizational talent they had, in acquiring relievers Huston Street, Joe Thatcher and Jason Grilli.
If this season is about getting back to October for the Angels, good enough. If this season is about playing deep into October, probably not good enough.
The Angels' best pitcher, Garrett Richards, 26, has thrown 144 innings this season, 13 shy of his major league career high. None of the other starters — Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tyler Skaggs, Hector Santiago or Matt Shoemaker — is significantly better than a league-average pitcher, according to ERA+ statistics that adjust for league and ballpark factors.
The Angels are two games behind the A's in the American League West. If whichever team loses the division wins the wild-card playoff game, the division series could feature the Angels against the A's, and against a rotation with Lester, Sonny Gray, Jeff Samardzija and Scott Kamzir, all well above league average. Of course, the Angels would find it easier to outslug an Oakland team without two-time Home Run Derby champ Yoenis Cespedes, who was sent to Boston for Lester.
If the Angels were to beat the A's, they would advance to the AL Championship Series — perhaps against the Tigers, with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and now Price. In that rotation, Verlander is the weak link. No kidding.
The Dodgers had the minor league talent to get Price, and they decided keeping that talent was a higher priority than giving themselves the best chance to win the World Series this year. They are terrified of getting too old and too brittle, too fast. They want to imitate the New York Yankees of the last decade, not this one.
The Dodgers still like their chance at the World Series, with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu atop their starting rotation.
"I'd be willing to stack our three guys against anybody else's top three," Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said.
There is no rotation in the National League that goes four deep, at least not with the quality of the quartets in Oakland and Detroit.
If the Dodgers face either one in the World Series, well, the Dodgers will be in the World Series for the first time since 1988.
That was the Series the Dodgers won with Mickey Hatcher, Jeff Hamilton, Franklin Stubbs, Rick Dempsey and John Shelby in the lineup for the clincher. If the Dodgers' biggest problem this season turns out to be a starter for Game4 of the World Series, we can live with that.
Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikinCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times