MINNEAPOLIS — This night — the night of the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby — could have belonged to Giancarlo Stanton, who darn near hit one all the way out of Target Field in a first-round display that left many mouths agape.
It could have belonged to Jose Bautista, whose 10 first-round homers set an early standard. Or toTodd Frazier, who took a circuitous path to the finals that was very much indebted to a new bracket format. Or to Justin Morneau, whose Minnesota homecoming was met with a thunderous standing ovation.
Heck, it could even have belonged to the elements, as rain delayed the start of the All-Star Week event by about an hour and returned with a final flourish near night’s end.
But if one thing is becoming increasingly clear in this exhibition — an event that raised $465,000 for worthy charities — it’s this:
Yoenis Cespedes owns the Derby.
Cespedes owned it Monday night just as he owned it a year ago at Citi Field, and in so doing, he joined Ken Griffey Jr. (1998-99) as the only Derby participants to successfully defend their crowns. Cespedes’ pure power was once again a sight to behold. His effortlessly majestic, arching blows routinely reached the second and third decks as he amassed nine home runs in the final round to easily dispatch Frazier, the National League’s finals representative, who hit just one.
“I’m somebody who’s very conscious of the power that I have,” Cespedes said. “So I don’t need to put more of a swing or more of an effort in order to hit a home run. I just have to look for a good pitch and put a good swing on it, and it usually takes care of it.”
Indeed, Sean Doolittle, Cespedes’ A’s teammate, probably summed it up best: “A regular Monday batting practice for Cespy.”
Of course, it didn’t start out that way. Once the rain cleared and the batting-practice pitches started coming, Bautista and Stanton were the ones who dominated the Derby early on.
Bautista has always done his part to destroy Target Field’s reputation as a pitcher’s park, having hit 11 regular-season homers in just 59 at-bats here. So it probably should not have come as a surprise that the American League captain came out swinging in a big way. His 10 homers traveled an average estimated distance of 389 feet and earned him a second-round bye.
And Stanton (briefly) did what actually seemed impossible: He lived up to the enormous hype that proceeded his first Derby performance.
Stanton’s third homer was the first of the night to reach the third deck. His fourth was a 430-foot shot to the second deck in dead center (even Stanton was smiling at that one). His fifth was a line-drive bullet to dead center, 413 feet from home plate. And Stanton capped it all off with a final-out FlexBall homer that had a projected (not actual) distance of 510 feet.
That one looked like it probably could have cleared the rainbow that had briefly formed above Target Field after the rain deluge.
“That was the charity ball, too,” said Stanton, referring to Gillette’s fundraising initiative tied to homers hit using the orange balls. “You never know how those are going to fly. It’s tough to pick those up as well, so that’s definitely cool.”
When it was over, Stanton stood in the box, faced his fellow All-Stars and held his arms out to his side as if to say, “How was that?”
It was good.
It was not, however, a preview of things to come.
The preview, it turned out, came in the swing-offs that ended the first round. Troy Tulowitzki andAdam Jones had joined Stanton and Bautista in advancing, but Cespedes and teammate Josh Donaldson were tied for third place in the AL with three apiece, while Frazier was tied with Morneau for third in the NL with two apiece. A three-swing tiebreaker followed, with Cespedes and Frazier advancing and, as it turned out, paving their way to the finals.
Interestingly, Frazier hit just 10 home runs total between the first round, the swing-off, the second round and the semifinals. But what he lacked in total tally, he more than made up for in timeliness. Frazier edged Tulo, 6-2, in the second round. And the semifinals round brought the night’s biggest surprise: Frazier surviving against Stanton despite hitting just one home run.
“I can’t believe I goose-egged my second round,” Stanton said with a smile.
Cespedes, meanwhile, was traveling a distinctly upward path. He found his groove in the second round to make short work of Jones, 9-3. And Cespedes’ seven-homer total in the semifinals was enough to beat Bautista, who finished with four after a long layoff.
“I thought I would put a little pressure on him by making him hit first,” Bautista said, “but apparently that was the wrong decision. If I had to do it again, I’ll hit first.”
Frazier might have made the same mistake, letting Cespedes bat first in the finals. Cespedes didn’t miss a beat, cranking out nine homers with an average distance of 409 feet, including one that traveled 452 feet — the longest recorded distance of the night.
“He’s tough to beat once he gets rolling,” Donaldson said. “I feel like he could’ve sat down for an hour and still keep popping them out, just because he loves this stuff.”
Frazier, frankly, didn’t stand a chance.
“To be the National League guy for Cincinnati, at least I bring that back home,” Frazier said. “I’m defending National League champ. I can put that on my résumé.”
Cespedes’ résumé already included some victories in various home run hitting competitions in his native Cuba, and now he’s gone back to back here. This Derby raised $50,000 for the charity of his choice, at least $95,000 for the Minneapolis Boys & Girls Club programs and Major League Baseball’s Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program, $20,000 to the charities of Cespedes’ Derby teammates, $25,000 each to the two captain’s charities of choice and $8,000 to the charities of the choice of the NL participants.
But it also further puffed up the profile of a guy whose swing is tailor-made for the Derby.
“I’m very happy and proud,” Cespedes said. “I wish there was another word that would describe it even better than that to win this competition in consecutive years.”
2014 HOME RUN DERBY RESULTS
|AL||Rd. 1||Rd. 2||Rd. 3||Final||Rd. 3||Rd. 2||Rd. 1||NL|
|Brian Dozier||2||1||6||2||Todd Frazier|
|Jose Bautista||10||Bye||4||Cespedes 9||2||4||Troy Tulowitzki|
|Adam Jones||4||3||Frazier 1||0||Yasiel Puig|
|Josh Donaldson||3||0||Bye||6||Giancarlo Stanton|
|Yoenis Cespedes||3||9||7||2||Justin Morneau|
Round 1 tiebreakers: Cespedes 2, Donaldson 1; Frazier 1, Morneau 0