DETROIT - The weather this morning seems better suited for November baseball. The Orioles should be able to chill the champagne and beer without ice.
They’re one win away from advancing to the American League Championship Series for the first time since 1997. The elements and early start times don’t faze them. It’s business as usual for a team that won 96 games during the regular season and took the division by 12, yet remains an underdog and an inexplicable success story to so many.
Delmon Young tends to defy explanation. He showed up at the Orioles’ mini-camp in January on a tryout basis, reported in the best shape of his life, won a roster spot and evolved into the game’s best pinch-hitter. He also batted .312/.357/.452 against right-handers, destroying theories that he’d be productive only in a platoon role.
Young has made the playoffs in the last six seasons with four different teams, including the Tigers, who acquired him from the Twins back in 2011. He’s totaled four doubles, a triple, nine home runs and 21 RBIs in 34 games.
Did Young take special pleasure in beating his former team with a three-run double in Game 2? If you voted “yes,” you’d be wrong.
“They did me a favor. They got me out of Minnesota and I got to play on the big stage with them,” he said. “I couldn’t be more happy to have played with Detroit. I loved it here.”
Orioles fans have grown to love Young, who erupted when he lined the three-run double into left field in the eighth inning. Had to be the loudest crowd he’s heard, right?
“No, no,” he said. “They’re loud on the J.J. Hardy chant. Why did it take four years for them to do it?”
Young broke out in laughter. His double really did bring the loudest response I’ve heard at the ballpark, rivaled perhaps by former closer Jim Johnson’s strikeout of Alex Rodriguez in the 2012 Division Series, but it’s funny how fans have started to complete PA announcer Ryan Wagner’s introduction of Hardy.
Players have noticed it for sure.
Young praised Orioles fans for their support of the team and the way they’ve packed the ballpark for the playoffs, the noise reaching levels that could shatter glass and eardrums.
“It’s what you live to do,” he said. “In spring training, the crowd’s like that, but it’s only 5,000. Opening day is like that, but it’s not as important, even though it’s important. At the end of the year, that game means something. But when you’re in a short series where you need three games to win, every game is important, every moment is important. Leadoff runners are important.
“They’re a good baseball crowd. They’re knowledgeable and they’ve been waiting since ‘97 to have a division champ. And since 2012 to be able to do this again in the postseason.”
The Orioles waited for Young to prove that he deserved to break camp with the team and that he never should have gone ignored for so long over the winter before settling for a minor league deal. He brought some baggage, which he left at the door.
“If you look at Delmon,” said manager Buck Showalter, “he would be the first to tell you that some of his challenges have been self‑inflicted. But you look at him just purely statistically and you go, ‘Why is this guy available?’ So as most clubs do or all clubs do, you go, ‘What are we missing here?’ And you kind of went through the reasons why he was available at the terms he was available at.
“I spent a lot of time with him in the mini-camp when he came in and did a lot of homework on him. The one thing we felt like was the actual performance in games would be there. It was the other things that, you know, we had to get our arms around, and that’s been solid since Day One.
“A lot of people think this guy is 40 years old. He’s 28, just turned 29. I think the maturity... And we’re always one bad decision away from something, you know?
“Like I told him, none of us like to have our lives judged by our worst decision. And the big thing is if you get an opportunity, you better run through that door, and he has. I’m proud of him. “
Young could do more than pinch-hit today. He’s probably going to serve as the designated hitter against Tigers left-hander David Price.
Jonathan Schoop most certainly will stay in the lineup. He’s a right-handed hitter, he’s valued for his defense and he’s 3-for-7 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored in the ALDS after homering last Sunday in Toronto.
Schoop was in a 6-for-55 slump before regaining his stroke. He relied on advice from teammates to lift him out of the fog.
“I made some adjustments,” he said. “All the veteran guys talked to me and I’m starting to see the ball longer. I’m kind of learning myself a little bit better and I’m trying to get better. I’m working in the cage, working on things and trying to improve and get better.
“I stayed positive. I’m a positive guy. I go out there and compete and try to win. No matter if I go 0-for-4, if we win, that’s more important. If today didn’t go good, come back tomorrow and try to get better. Work in the cage and see all those guys hit and try to pick up something.”
Schoop was part of a dazzling double play in the ALDS, taking a throw from third baseman Ryan Flaherty, who made a diving stop of Miguel Cabrera’s grounder, and firing to first base. Shortstop J.J. Hardy dived behind Flaherty, just in case the ball got through.
“I think it was pretty impressive,” Schoop said. “I think it was one of the best. And what about the stretch from Steve Pearce? That was a good stretch.”
Pearce, sitting next to Schoop yesterday, couldn’t resist.
“I’ve been making you look good all year,” he quipped.