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Young continues playoff swagger with Rays

Outfielder belts MLB-high ninth postseason home run since 2011

CLEVELAND -- Danny Salazar was rolling.

The Indians right-hander mowed down the first six batters he faced with a blazing fastball that reached as high as 100 mph to invigorate the 43,579 fans at Progressive Field who hadn't seen their club in postseason baseball since 2007.

But Salazar opened the third with his first mistake -- a first-pitch 95-mph heater at the letters -- and Rays designated hitter Delmon Young capitalized with a home run to left field to silence the crowd.

The solo shot quickly shifted the momentum the Rays' way, and they never looked back behind a solid performance from right-hander Alex Cobb in a 4-0 win in the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday night.

"It was a good pitch to hit -- I wasn't going to let it go by," Young said. "It was a ball up in the zone. I got ready in time and it looked fat out of his hands so I decided to take a rip at it."

From the energized Tampa Bay bench, first baseman James Loney said he called Young's shot.

"I told Wil Myers he was going to get him and then he hit that first pitch right there," Loney said with a smile. "So I'd like to take some credit for that."

It was just another clutch postseason performance from Young, who has been in the playoffs every year since 2009, playing with the Twins (2009-10) and Tigers ('11-12).

The homer was Young's ninth in 29 career playoff games, with his nine homers since the 2011 postseason ranking as the most in the Majors during that time. Including Wednesday night's shot, five of those homers came on a first-pitch, fitting since Young has the highest first-pitch swing rate of any active Major Leaguer at 45 percent.

Young has always feasted on first pitches, as he's a career .350 hitter with 26 homers on the first offering of an at-bat during the regular season.

But he was still an unlikely hero for Tampa Bay, as he was released by the Phillies on Aug. 14 before signing with the Rays on Aug. 22 to bolster their lineup, especially against left-handed pitchers.

It was a homecoming of sorts for Young, who was a top prospect with the Rays before being sent to the Twins in the 2008 trade that brought Matt Garza to Tampa Bay.

Bringing Young back has paid off for the Rays, who are now heading to Boston for Game 1 of an American League Division Series showdown against the Red Sox, Friday at 3 p.m. ET on TBS.

"We don't have a payroll where we're forced to win," Young said. "No one ever picks us. So it's a lot easier to go out there and win a ballgame instead of a $200 million payroll where it's win the World Series or bust. Everyone is more relaxed here and has a lot of fun, so it's just a great environment to play in."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
Read More: Tampa Bay Rays, Delmon Young