BOSTON — The biggest hit of this past week, the one that might have ultimately delivered the Rays to Fenway Park for today’s start of the AL Division Series, was the two-out single up the middle Sunday that scored a run and kept the big inning alive in a game the Rays had to win.
They did ... barely, beating Toronto by a run on the final day of the regular season to set up the one-game tiebreaker with Texas that led to the wild-card win at Cleveland that delivered the Rays to Boston for a meeting with the Red Sox.
And it came from Delmon Young, the one-time future of the organization who has returned to become a huge part of the present.
“Delmon has quietly made a tremendous impact on this group,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Yes. Evan Longoria and Wil Myers are the thunder in the lineup, yet Young is the professional hitter with the history of postseason success, who is capable of driving in a run with a single through the middle on a full count to keep a big inning alive, delivering a sacrifice fly in the first inning to ensure the team gets something out of a bases-loaded situation and crushing the first pitch of the third inning into the left-field seats to give the Rays a lead.
Young accomplished all three during the past three games.
“I can’t figure that one out,” Young said when asked to explain his late-season success. “I think next year I need to act like it’s the postseason at the beginning of the season.”
Young’s homer Wednesday at Cleveland was his ninth in the postseason, No one has hit more postseason home runs since Young began his postseason power binge in 2011. Also, five of those home runs have given his team the lead.
“It’s been exactly what we needed, really I think what we were hoping for when we signed him. It’s exactly what he’s been,” Ben Zobrist said. “He’s been clutch, and he’s been great all the way around.”
Young, the first overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Rays, has his finger prints all over the team’s success. He was traded in November 2007 to Minnesota for Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett. Garza was the 2008 AL Championship Series MVP and Bartlett was voted the MVP of the Rays’ World Series team.
“I was talking to someone about (how) Delmon might be the most valuable player the Rays have ever had because they got Garza and Bartlett for him and then they’re gone and he comes back for a playoff race,” said former Ray Jonny Gomes, now a Red Sox outfielder.
Young, claimed off waivers Aug. 22 and given the rest of the month to find his swing at Double-A Montgomery, has worked his way into the role of full-time designated hitter.
“I love the idea that he’s in our lineup,” Maddon said. “He’s been through these moments. DY is not going to be overwhelmed by any of this stuff.”
Young was the MVP of the 2012 ALCS when he led Detroit past New York in a four-game sweep. It’s that late-season production the Rays needed when they signed Young to a minor-league contract. He’s had a big hit or a big at-bat in all three of the elimination games won by the Rays. He would have four RBIs in the past three games if not for a blown call on his sinking liner Monday in Texas.
Maddon compared Young to former Ray B.J. Upton, who also had the ability to rise to the occasion in the postseason.
“They kind of like this. There’s no change in anything,” Maddon said. “These are the kind of moments that you like players like B.J. and Delmon, cause you know they’re going to show up.”