Four Decembers ago, Dayton Moore and Doug Melvin locked horns, both men in charge of major league rosters desperate to win immediately or immediately thereafter.

Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals, and Melvin, the GM of the Milwaukee Brewers, pitched each other back and forth on how to send Zack Greinke to Milwaukee. The Brewers, a team on the cusp, needed Greinke to make them a legitimate playoff contender in 2011. The Royals, a team going nowhere, had no use for Greinke and needed young major league talent in return.

Greinke was the main piece of the deal, and shortstop Alcides Escobar the big return piece for the Royals, but Lorenzo Cain was one of the sticking points for Moore. He wanted him included, and while Melvin was hesitant, Greinke’s impact was too great to hold out—and the Brewers’ GM eventually included Cain, among others, with Escobar.

Almost four years later, the baseball universe now knows why Moore insisted on Cain’s inclusion. Cain, a versatile outfielder, is a key reason the Royals are up 2-0 on the Baltimore Orioles after Saturday’s 6-4 win in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, two wins away from the World Series.

“That [trade] was the start of putting together a championship baseball team,” manager Ned Yost said in his postgame press conference. “That’s where it started, with that Greinke trade.”

Cain is 6-for-8 in the ALCS—he went 4-for-5 with an RBI and two runs in Game 2—and 10-for-27 (.370) in his first six postseason games. He has also played stellar defense, adding to his highlight reel with two fantastic catches Saturday, including one that he seemed to run a marathon to reach in the right-center gap and another in the seventh to end the inning with two runners in scoring position in a tied game.

“I’m just trying to do the best I can to be a playmaker behind [the pitchers],” Cain told the TBS broadcast after the game. “I felt like I was in right field [on that one].”

Cain’s four hits in Game 2 also tied a franchise record for most in a single playoff game. George Brett did it twice.

“I want to be an all-around player, swing the bat and play solid defense and steal bags as well,” Cain told MLB Network after the game. “I still got work to do, I still got things to work on but I’m trying to improve each and every day and become a great ballplayer.”

Cain’s star has been budding since before the Greinke trade. The Brewers called him up midway through the 2010 season, and in 158 plate appearances, he hit .306/.348/.415 with 11 doubles and seven stolen bases. He also played wonderful defense in that short time, but the Brewers had traded for Carlos Gomez the year before and already had Ryan Braun and Corey Hart entrenched in the outfield.

They didn’t want to let Cain go, but he was expendable at the time.

“Lorenzo was really raw at that time,” said Yost, who managed the Brewers from 2003 to 2008 and saw plenty of Brewers prospects over that time. “But you could tell with his athleticism that he might turn into one heck of a player, and he sure has.”

This season was Cain’s breakout campaign. After struggling to find himself in three seasons with the Royals, Cain, who only found baseball after being cut from his high school basketball team, played himself into the regular lineup after the first month of the regular season, hitting .333/.364/.381, and proved he was worthy of staying in it during the next month with a .342/.400/.474 line and .874 OPS. Cain finished the season hitting .301/.339/.412 with a .751 OPS and 108 OPS-plus.

Defensively, Cain has been a wizard. He was second in the league with 24 defensive runs saved behind teammate Alex Gordon and second in ultimate zone rating, also behind Gordon. It can be argued that Gordon’s outstanding defensive season, which is no fluke, was aided by having Cain patrolling center field for more than 700 innings.

Those numbers are evidence that at 28 years old, Cain is finally fulfilling the potential the Brewers and Royals saw four years ago. And this postseason stage is the perfect setting for the baseball world to see the wannabe basketball player-turned-baseball stud become an October star.

“I’m really happy about it,” Yost said. “He had a great day today, four hits, made some great plays in the outfield, none bigger for me than that ball J.J. Hardy hit down the right-field line [in the seventh]. He came out of nowhere and caught it. I thought for sure that ball was going to drop when it first left the bat, and all of the sudden here he comes and makes the play.

“The country is seeing a very exciting player in Lorenzo Cain.”

All signs point to Cain continuing to be an impact player on both offense and defense for the rest of the series, and he is 4-for-12 lifetime (.333) against Game 3 starter Wei-Yin Chen. If this breakout run continues, it will make the Orioles’ road to a comeback much more difficult.


Anthony Witrado covers Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. He spent the previous three seasons as the national baseball columnist at Sporting News, and four years before that as the Brewers beat writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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