Hamilton steals show at Home Run Derby

Jul 15, 2008 - 4:32 AM By Tom Covill PA SportsTicker Assistant Baseball Editor

Justin Morneau came away with the win, but Josh Hamilton earned the adoration.

Morneau edged Hamilton, 5-3, in the final round Monday to win the Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium.

It was Hamilton's historic first round that got the crowd roaring and rendered the rest of the competition anti-climactic. The Texas Rangers' slugger set a Home Run Derby record with 28 blasts in the opening round, most approaching 500 feet.

Morneau reached the finals with a cumulative total of 17 homers in the first two rounds, barely more than half of Hamilton's total of 32. Morneau saved a little gas for the end, crushing a pair of upper-deck shots into right field to highlight the finals.

"I take a lot of swings every day in the cage," Morneau said. "I don't know if that helped me at all. We're usually the first ones down in the cage with (hitting coach) Joe (Varva). He'll throw to me until I can't swing anymore pretty much."

The British Columbia native Morneau was appearing in the contest for a second straight year, having bowed out in the first round in 2007.

"San Francisco (where the derby was in 2007) is a little higher wall in right. It was a little deeper out there in right-center, all that kind of stuff."

But the biggest story of the last two seasons has been the recovery and success of Hamilton, a former No. 1 overall pick who overcame drug addiction and has made himself into an MVP candidate.

He leads the majors with 95 RBI and was the favorite amongst his peers heading into the event. However, the first round power surge left him a little gassed for the rest of the competition.

"You don't realize how tired you are," the lefty said. "The last round, you're out there, you're swinging. You're tired but you feel like you have a little bit extra and you try to create the power instead of just letting it happen, nice and easy.

"Big Papi (David Ortiz) told me - I was in here sitting down - and he said, 'Don't sit down, get outside and keep sweating.'"

When the participants were introduced at a press conference earlier in the day each was asked the current major league player they were most likely to stop and watch during batting practice.

"Actually earlier this year - doesn't happen too often - but when Josh was in Minnesota, probably five or six of our guys actually stayed down and watched him hit," Morneau said. "He puts on a show."

"I'd have to agree with that," the Rays' Evan Longoria said. "Josh is very impressive."

Plenty of people stuck around to watch the show, with most of the All-Stars and over 53,000 in attendance.

"He was the one who put on the show," Morneau said. "I think everyone will remember Josh Hamilton's homers."

Hamilton's Rangers teammate Ian Kinsler interrupted the slugging after Hamilton's second home run of the round knocked off an advertisement just below the facade along the right-center field wall.

"(It looked) extremely far," Hamilton said. "Guys were messing with me from my team. Michael Young was like 'I want to see you hit the Bank of America.' I said 'I'll try.' I came out doing that."

No player has ever hit a homer out of Yankee Stadium - batting practice or otherwise - but Hamilton came close twice, blasting balls off the back wall in right-center.

Kinsler would not be the only one to visit Hamilton at the plate during the first round. Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez repeatedly sent children to the plate with Gatorade for Hamilton, and even sent one child up with a ball and a pen for an autograph midway through.

The crowd responded to Hamilton right from the start , chanting his name as blast after blast landed in the bleachers in right-center field and upper deck in right.

"Unbelievable," Hamilton said of the crowd. "I was in my backyard as a kid, thinking about Yankee Stadium. This is Yankee Stadium and Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio or whoever. To be here tonight and to see the way the crowd responded and see my family up there. Being able to hear that and experience that was the best thing I could ask for."

The rest of the contest was seemingly inconsequential, as the crowd only came back to life when Hamilton came back to the plate.

Since the scoring for the first two rounds was cumulative, Hamilton did not even need to take a swing in the second round, but went out long enough to blast four more homers.

His 28 first-round homers traveled a total of 12,458 feet and his 518-foot blast in the first round was the third-longest homer ever hit in Derby competition.






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