It seems like Delmon Young has been in the major leagues for more than nine years.
Maybe that’s because he came to the majors so young, or maybe because he’s in the postseason every year. His bat has always earned him a job. Throughout years ragged by injuries, off-the-field issues and even weight clauses in his contract, hitting has always been the easy part.
After his three-run, pinch-hit double Friday afternoon led the Orioles to a 7-6 comeback win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, Young was asked whether he had ice in his veins. He chuckled and shrugged it off.
“No, not really,” Young said. “I might have some Tito's [vodka] later.”
To Young, it’s not all that complicated. He has played in the postseason in each of the past six years, so that’s old hat.
Young, 29, helped the Tigers to the 2012 World Series by hitting .354 and driving in six runs in Detroit’s four-game sweep of the New York Yankees in the AL Championship Series, earning series Most Valuable Player honors while playing on an ankle that was so injured that every step out of the batter’s box was painful by the end of the season.
When the Orioles signed Young to a minor league deal in January, they thought they were bringing in a qualified right-handed hitter to face left-handed pitching. He has been much more, especially in a pinch-hitting role. After going 6-for-27 as a pinch hitter entering this season, he was 10-for-20 in that role during the 2014 regular season.
“That’s been Delmon all year,” first baseman Steve Pearce said. “You love when that guy comes to the plate. … He keeps everything simple. You know when Delmon goes to the plate, something’s going to happen. He’s coming in in a big spot, and when the guy consistently gets it done, you almost come to expect it.”
Young came to spring training as a nonroster invitee and won one of the final roster spots heading into the regular season. He said he was finally healthy for the first time since 2011 after he underwent microfracture surgery on his ankle following the 2012 season.
Over most of his career, Young came to the playoffs in a starting role. He has started 31 of 34 postseason games in his career.
But Young’s “see-the-ball, hit-the-ball” approach, which has been his philosophy since he was the top prospect in baseball as a 20-year-old for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, helps him get ready off the bench.
“I do what I need to do to get ready, so when the time comes for me to go out there, I’m prepared,” Young said. “I’m always comfortable in the batter’s box. It doesn’t matter whether I haven’t had a hit in a while or I’m 10-for-10. You’ve got to feel comfortable.”
And Orioles manager Buck Showalter was comfortable sending Young to the plate in place of third baseman Ryan Flaherty with the bases loaded against Tigers right-hander Joakim Soria. Showalter had wanted to get Young into Game 1, but he couldn’t.
“He's been in some big games for us during the season, too,” Showalter said. “He's slashing it, letting it rip, and he fits us well. He doesn't go around reading a lot of resumes and a lot of bubble gum cards. He goes up there, and he works very hard. His work ethic and things he does to prepare, you know, it's very hard to sit around and not know where the consistent at-bats are coming.”
Young didn’t wait — he batted .425 on the first pitch this season — ripping Soria’s first delivery, a 79-mph slider, to left field to clear the bases and send the home crowd into a frenzy.
“He’s a fastball hitter, he swings at the first pitch,” Soria said. “I threw a slider, and he was on it. Unfortunately for us, for me, he hit it down the line. He didn’t hit it to a man.”
As Young’s hit skipped to the left-field fence — and into Orioles history — two runs had already scored, and both Steve Pearce and Nelson Cruz hit the ground as J.J. Hardy slid across home plate with his left hand to score the go-ahead run.
With the game on the line, Young delivered as a pinch hitter again.
“I think we look at him and say, ‘How does he do it?’” shortstop J.J. Hardy said. “Everybody is just confused. It’s just unbelievable how good he is pinch hitting.”