"Everybody knows he's ready to fire on the first one," spoke the TBS announcer, right before Joakim Soria threw his first pitch of ALDS Game 2 to Delmon Young in the 8th inning in Baltimore. Young was indeed ready to fire, and that's exactly what he did. Hits don't get much better than that: Bases loaded, tying and go-ahead runs both on base, late in a playoff game, at home, walloped so that, right off the bat, you knew something awesome had just happened. Everyone in the crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards knew, and it was awesome.
When the Orioles signed Young, no one had much of an idea that any of this was to come. That's the thing about Dan Duquette and his fringe signings. The odds of any one mattering are small, but it only takes one diamond in the rough to make it all worth the trouble. Maybe I'm not giving enough credit to Duquette, though. Maybe he saw postseason glory in Young's future and wanted to make sure that it happened for the Orioles. It's fun to think so.
Back in April or May some time, I was agitating for the Orioles to send Young packing. His past indiscretions made him into something of an undesirable presence for a fan. We have to root for THAT guy? And all along there would be comments from fans of other teams, acting like the Orioles have a truly terrible human being on the team. But on top of that, he just felt like a redundant presence. They didn't need another right-handed bat on the bench.
Young only appeared in 10 games in April, and by the end of May he'd only batted 78 times. Why spend a roster spot on him, on top of all of the baggage he came with? This is why you should never listen to me, because I don't know anything.
When the Orioles designated Steve Pearce for assignment, I wanted Young to be gone instead. As it turned out, it's good that the O's were able to get back Pearce and keep Young. As Gandalf might say, do not be too eager to deal out DFAs in judgement. Not even the wise can see all ends.
Even without the clutchest of clutch doubles, Young was an important part of the Orioles this year. His role as a part-time player who could come off the bench and give a good at-bat was significant. Much as it's easy to say that all players should be able to stay sharp whether or not they're playing every day, the reality is that this is not always the case.
Young is a player who has the ability to play sporadically, come in and make the most out of one plate appearance in a game. What he did in the postseason against Detroit was not an aberration. He appeared as a pinch hitter in 23 games for the O's this year and reached base in 13 of those games. That adds up to a .500/.565/.800 batting line as a pinch hitter. A small sample size, to be sure, but as a pinch hitter, that's all you get, and Young made the most of it all. When pinch hitting, he drove in five runs himself, and scored five runs as well.
This is exactly the kind of player the O's haven't had available off their bench in recent seasons. Not bad for a guy who may well have been down to his last chance before he had the season he did for the O's. If you're signing minor league contracts to stick around at age 28, as Young did, it's time to wonder if baseball is still in the cards.
Young proved he can still offer something to a team. Maybe he'll even end up back in Baltimore in a similar role next year. He's out there looking for a two-year deal; if he doesn't find that, the O's should be as good a place as any.
He is only 29 now, and he's coming off a season where he batted .302/.337/.442 in a part-time role. That's good for a 120 OPS+, 20% better than the average hitter. Pretty good for a guy who was making near the MLB minimum salary. No other team was willing to take a chance on Young, but the Orioles did, and he paid them back and then some.
Perhaps the bat-throwing, insult-hurling past version of Delmon Young was sanded off with the benefit of maturity. In his time with the Orioles, he showed nothing of the man who was so unpopular with fans of other teams. That might as well have been a different person.
On the eve of Thanksgiving, O's fans can give thanks that Young found his way onto the 2014 Orioles. Hopefully the same can be said of him a year from now as well.