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Bautista powers way to runner-up HR Derby finish

KANSAS CITY -- Jose Bautista does not just love the spotlight, he craves it. The Blue Jays' right fielder thrived when baseball first began to take notice of his budding potential, and he has turned into a superstar with all eyes locked on him now.

The State Farm Home Run Derby is the perfect stage for such a performer.

On Monday night, Bautista provided a glimpse into the type of show he has been offering for fans north of the border. Toronto's lone All-Star representative reached the Home Run Derby's final round, but finished as the runner-up to Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder, now a two-time Derby champion.

"The most important thing for me was not necessarily winning, but putting on a good show," said Bautista, who took his loss hard. "I wasn't able to do it, but he did. I'm happy about that."

After a disappointing showing in his only other Derby experience, Bautista came out hacking, especially when the batting-practice offerings floated in on his hands. The right fielder used his signature leg lift and violent swing to produce a first-round-leading 11 home runs -- nearly three times his output (four) in last season's event at Arizona's Chase Field.

In the final round, which Bautista reached after besting Mark Trumbo of the Angels in a swing-off, the Blue Jays' slugger watched from the sidelines as Fielder stole the show. The Detroit first baseman, who previously won the 2009 Home Run Derby as a member of the Brewers, launched 12 home runs in the final round.

"I was having fun when he was hitting them out, too," Bautista admitted.

With seven homers in his last-ditch effort to keep pace with Fielder (28 total homers), Bautista -- who will start in right field for the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game at 7:30 p.m. ET on Rogers Sportsnet -- ended the night hitting 22 home runs (20 over three rounds, plus two in the swing-off).

"At the end, you saw how he put up a good show," Fielder said. "I was just trying to hit as many as I could, give me some breathing room."

Bautista headed into the evening as baseball's most prolific slugger.

The right fielder is tied with Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton for the Major League lead in home runs, having launched 27 in the first half for the Blue Jays. Bautista's ascension up the leaderboard has been swift. The right fielder had just three April blasts before going on a tear through May and June.

Bautista's 14 home runs in June established a franchise record for any single month.

Dating back to September 2009, Bautista has paced baseball's power hitters with 134 home runs -- well ahead of the rest of the pack. Angels first baseman Albert Pujols ranks second in that span with 99 homers. That gap of 35 long balls is a season's worth of shots for most of the game's top sluggers.

Bautista's breakout showing came in 2010, when the right fielder set a single-season franchise record with 54 home runs for Toronto. Bautista followed that up with a big league-best 43 bombs in 2011, showing that his influx was no fluke.

When Yankees second baseman, and American League captain, Robinson Cano -- last summer's Derby champion -- picked Bautista to be a part of the AL's launch squad this year, the Blue Jays' star became only the third player in Toronto history to have multiple appearances. Joe Carter (1991-92 and 1996) and Carlos Delgado (2000 and 2003) are the others.

In fact, the Blue Jays have had 13 Derby participants over the years -- a record for the contest. No Toronto player has ever capture the crown, though. In 2007, former Blue Jays outfielder Alex Rios belted a Derby-high 19 home runs, but Vladimir Guerrero won the competition.

"I always feel like I'm representing the team, myself, my country, Canada, the Dominican Republic," Bautista said. "You always feel like you represent all the organizations that you're with, and the places you come from."

Throwing to Bautista in this year's Derby was Brian Abraham, the Blue Jays' advance scouting and video coordinator. Abraham, who resumed throwing batting practice last week after undergoing an emergency appendectomy last month in Chicago, assumed the Derby duties held last year by Toronto bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos.

Overall, Bautista averaged 418 feet per home run -- his longest being a 442-foot shot to left-center field. The slugger also had the crowd inside Kauffman Stadium in collective awe after sending his second shot bouncing off the wall of the Royals Hall of Fame building that sits beyond the left-field wall.

Throughout the night, though, Abraham struggled to keep the ball inside to Bautista's liking. At one point in the opening round, the slugger had the catcher move more inside, hoping to help correct the issue.

"I knew where he needed it," Abraham said. "The hard part is actually throwing it there."

Bautista did not fault Abraham for the second-place showing, though.

"He did a great job," Bautista said. "It's more on me than him. I'm the one who's got to swing the bat and get it done. I'm not blaming him whatsoever for not winning."

Bautista launched six home runs in the first round with gold balls, which were thrown when a hitter reached nine outs. Each blast with a gold ball resulted in $18,000 being donated to charity by State Farm and Major League Baseball. Bautista was feeling charitable, clubbing $108,000 worth of homers in the opening round. Bautista hit one more gold-ball home run in the finals.

In the second round, Bautista slowed down, putting just two pitches over the wall. His second shot (13th overall, tying Trumbo for second place through the first two rounds) carried 428 feet to left-center field and splashed into the famous fountains of Kansas City's home stadium. Bautista then out-slugged Trumbo, 2-1, in a five-cut swing-off to earn the right to take on Fielder in the finals.

"I'm just a little disappointed in myself," Bautista said. "I know what I'm capable of doing, and I didn't really execute. But, I had a lot of fun doing it, and we're going to help a lot of people and a lot of great causes with the donations we were able to make."

Toronto Blue Jays, Jose Bautista