Young makes eventful debut
WHITE SOX 12, RAYS 9: The heralded prospect misplays a flyball, gets hit by a pitch - angering Joe Maddon - homers and singles.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published August 30, 2006
CHICAGO - After all that he had said and done before he got to the major-leagues Tuesday, all Delmon Young wanted to do was fit in and be part of the Devil Rays team.
By the end of his eventful debut in a 12-9 loss to the White Sox, the Rays' 11th straight on the road, he had become the focus - and perhaps a rallying point in their clubhouse.
A first game that included a misplay on the first ball hit at him and a home run for his first hit was defined by what happened on the first pitch Young saw - a fastball from Sox starter Freddy Garcia that hit him square in the back.
Devil Rays manager Joe Maddon said it was clearly done intentionally - which Garcia denied - and that it would not be tolerated, a sentiment he said spread quickly on the Rays bench in defense of the 20-year-old rookie outfielder.
"I want the word out that that's the last time that should happen," Maddon said. "It's over for him. It was obvious what they did. Nobody else needs to discipline us. We'll take care of that ourselves. ... It could have a positive impact in the clubhouse. We're not going to tolerate that."
All things considered - the scrutiny, the pressure, the pre-game media session, the stinging welcome to the big leagues - Maddon said Young handled it well. "He did great," Maddon said. "I thought he had a really nice first day."
When Jermaine Dye - Young's childhood idol - drove a ball to the rightfield wall in the first, Young drifted too far back and was too close to the wall to jump. All he could do was stand flatfooted and watch as the ball hit the top of the padding and bounced over for a three-run homer.
After being booed by the fans, Young was given a more painful welcome by Garcia, who claimed he was just trying to pitch inside and had no reason to hit Young.
"I don't know why," Garcia said. "I don't know that kid." Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, too busy ripping his own pitchers, did not address the issue.
Young didn't complain, saying repeatedly: "It put a runner on base." Maddon did to the umpires, and perhaps to make sure their reply was clear, Rays reliever Ruddy Lugo - after a mound visit by pitching coach Mike Butcher - hit Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski in the eighth.
Young struck out in his second at-bat then stepped up in the sixth and ripped a searing liner into the White Sox bullpen for a two-run homer that pulled the Rays, who had been down 7-0 after a brutal start by Casey Fossum, to within 7-5. He later singled and scored.
"It was all right," Young said, downplaying the dramatic first hit. "I was just trying to help the team out anyway possible."
Young is considered among the top prospects in the game. But his reputation for creating trouble with his attitude and actions - throwing a bat at an umpire, publicly criticizing the Rays - preceded him to the majors, creating much conversation and some consternation.
He sat through a 15-minute session with about 20 writers and photographers before the game, spewing clichs about just wanting to focus on baseball, learning from his mistakes and looking forward, but made no complaints.
Young even showed a sense of humor when asked about the abuse he might take from the fans at U.S. Cellular Field. "Obviously, they're going to be drunk," he said, "and Chicago's not an easy spot to come play. So they'll probably be heckling me."
Actually they weren't very creative. "Just the standard, "Are you going to throw a bat at me?' he said. "Nothing to even turn around and give them a smile about."
Young said he was surprised to be called up and excited about the opportunity to show the Rays - and "29 other teams" - he could play. The top pick of the 2003 draft, he made no issue of how long it took him to get called up, a common theme previously. But his brother Dmitri, who plays for the Tigers, said in New York on Tuesday, "It's about time."
Young arrived at the Rays hotel at about 11 Tuesday morning after flying from Durham, N.C., and rode out to the stadium on the team's 2 p.m. bus. He sat for a while in front of locker with headphones on and his iPod playing, met with Maddon, sat on the bench talking with hitting coach Steve Henderson and made conversation with some teammates around the clubhouse.
He said at some point he would address his teammates to make sure they knew he was "here to be one of the guys and compete every day and help us get to where we want to be."
Carl Crawford said that would be a good idea. "It probably wouldn't hurt him to apologize to the team, to say something," he said. "I'm pretty sure guys definitely want to hear something come out of his mouth."
But Young's ability to help the team on the field doesn't come with the same warning labels.
"I'm definitely cool with him being here because he can play," Crawford said. "When you're talking about helping the team, that's something different. I don't think anybody disagrees with him being in the lineup. It's the other stuff people was worried about."
Maddon, however, said, he had no concerns and feesl the issues will fade.
"I had a great conversation with him, and I'm very excited about him being here," Maddon said. "When you speak to Delmon and when you see him interact among the group, he fits in really well."
Perhaps even better after the first pitch than Young expected.
"I said those stupid things in the paper so I would't really expect the guys to be behind me so quickly," he said. "They know I wasn't viciously out to get them; it was a stupid mistake by myself. Between the lines, these guys want to win and they'll do what it takes to protect a player."
Young, wearing No. 35, will get the chance to play every day in rightfield and work his way up from the No. 8 spot in the lineup.
Fossum walked five of 13 batters as the Rays fell behind 7-0, but rallied on homers by Jorge Cantu and Young.