BALTIMORE — Following one of the most dramatic moments in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Delmon Young appeared to be the only one who didn’t view his three-run double as anything special after the Orioles’ 7-6 win over the Detroit Tigers on Friday afternoon.
Asked how it felt to hear the roar of the crowd after he connected on a liner down the left-field line off Joakim Soria and what it meant to lift his club to a dramatic comeback victory to take a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series, Young was short and unemotional with his answers as if he didn’t understand why such a fuss was being made. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Young has delivered in October as it was just a few years ago that he hit eight home runs over two postseason runs with the same team he put on the brink of elimination Friday afternoon.
“Just like winning a ballgame,” said Young about how he felt as just a trace of a half-smile briefly came across his face. “I was trying to do my job and win a game. You don’t want to go to Detroit [tied] 1-1 when they have [David] Price going and [Rick] Porcello going and they have an opportunity to clinch up there.”
The coming days will determine where Young’s hit might ultimately rank in club history, but the 29-year-old’s bases-clearing double has at least given him folk-hero status in a 22-year history of Camden Yards that doesn’t include a long list of great on-field results.
It all started quietly enough with the Orioles signing Young to a minor-league deal following a tryout at their January minicamp in Sarasota. His career appeared at a crossroads after a mediocre season with Detroit in 2012 and a disappointing campaign split between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay a year ago.
But the Orioles only envisioned a platoon role for him against left-handed pitching, and manager Buck Showalter quipped after Friday’s game that no one was smart enough to anticipate Young’s 10-for-20 mark as a pinch-hitter in 2014, providing timely hits throughout a 96-win campaign even after stretches when he’d sit on the bench for days at a time.
“He’s always been a good hitter,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who scored the go-ahead run on Young’s double and played with him in Minnesota in 2010. “But pinch-hitting, we look at each other in the dugout after he gets a big hit and we’re like, ‘How does he do that after not seeing a live pitch for five or six days and then just come in and hit a pitch like that down the line?’ It’s unbelievable.”
Young shrugged when asked how he’s been able to come through off the bench in the late innings so often, calling it good fortune and stating that it’s a matter of simply being ready whenever Showalter calls his name. Now with his fifth different club in the last four years, the journeyman almost made it sound as simple as rolling out of bed to step to the plate before returning to a state of relaxation after getting the job done.
But teammates know better, applauding his preparation and ability to do something that even many of the most-skilled hitters in the game struggle with.
“It’s the hardest job in sports, being a pinch-hitter,” said first baseman Steve Pearce, who’s filled a similar role to Young’s in past seasons and is a career .190 pinch-hitter in 88 plate appearances. “You’re going up there cold; you haven’t seen any pitching. Bullpen pitching [is] even tougher. That’s why he’s so good. He keeps everything simple. He doesn’t read into anything. He just goes up there and hits, and he does a good job of that.”
Showalter said Young is one of those players that allows a manager to rest his head on his pillow when thinking about using him, because he’s always going to be ready. Young has rewarded that faith with big hits throughout the season.
But none were as dramatic as his game-winner on Friday, putting the Orioles in position to advance to the AL Championship Series with just one more win over the Tigers.
“We don’t know if magic is the word to use,” said Young about the Orioles scoring 12 eighth-inning runs in the first two games of the series. “We’re just trying to beat a very good ball club in Detroit.”