Cespedes beats Harper to claim Derby title
NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes might not be an actual All-Star, but he was the undisputed star of the Chevrolet Home Run Derby on Monday night.
Cespedes put on a show for the sold-out Citi Field crowd, banging out 17 home runs in the first round and six in the second, then capping his night with a final-round flourish of nine home runs to edge Bryce Harper and become the first non-All-Star to win the event.
Despite all the curiosity over whether Prince Fielder could become just the second player to win the Derby three times or whether Chris Davis' incredible first half would carry over into this setting, it was Cespedes who stole the spotlight.
"Before I came," Cespedes said through interpreter Pedro Gomez, "they asked me if I was going to be nervous because I would be participating in front of possibly 50,000 people. When I was in Cuba, I participated in five home run derbies; it wasn't 50,000 people, but it was 30,000 or 32,000 people and I wasn't nervous."
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Several of Cespedes' shots went to the third deck of a ballpark with deep dimensions. And even though Harper, who at 20 years and 272 days old nearly became the Derby's youngest winner ever, gave Cespedes a high hurdle to cross in the final round, Cespedes crossed it with ease. With five outs remaining out of his available 10, he won it with an exclamation point -- a 455-foot poke to dead center -- becoming the first right-handed hitter to win the Derby since Vladimir Guerrero in 2007.
Cespedes showed why captain Robinson Cano handpicked him to round out the American League squad. Now in his second season with the A's after defecting from Cuba, Cespedes' batting-practice displays have been the stuff of legend, and on this night he got to show that "sick pop," as David Ortiz called it, to a national audience.
"I asked some guys that were in the All-Star Game, but some of them couldn't," Cano said. "You know what? It's good to give a chance to a guy that didn't make the All-Star Game so he can get the experience. Now he's got a truck. I hope he gives me at least two tires."
Cespedes won a Chevrolet Silverado (the very vehicle he pelted with one of his final round feats of strength), but more important was the $529,000 raised for some worthy causes, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) and MLB Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) program. Because the AL team, led by Cespedes, edged the NL in homer tally over the first two rounds, Chevrolet and MLB will donate $150,000 to Cano's charity and $100,000 to BGCA in Cano's name. A total of $25,000 will be donated to NL captain David Wright's charity.
Though Wright, the local hero and All-Star ambassador, bowed out after the first round, he was thrilled to see Citi Field shining.
"It really, really was awesome," Wright said. "It's what I remember the playoff atmosphere [at Shea Stadium] being like in 2006."
The ballpark was really buzzing after Cespedes' sensational first round, in which he tied Ortiz (2005) for the third-most homers in a single round. It wasn't the same as Josh Hamilton's 28-homer outburst in the first round at Yankee Stadium in 2008, but it was still pretty special. And Cespedes was one of four first-time Derby participants to advance to the second round, joined by Harper, Davis and Michael Cuddyer.
DEEP INTO THE NIGHT
In the second round, Harper, with his father, Ron, serving as his personal pitcher, stepped to the forefront by repeating his eight-homer performance of the first round. Father and son found themselves in a nice -- and touching -- groove.
"I've got to thank my dad for everything he has done for me, all the numerous [batting practices] he's thrown to me," Harper said. "I love him more than anything in this world."
Cespedes, meanwhile, gave himself so much breathing room in the first round that he didn't need a single home run in the second. But he hit six anyway, boosting the charity donation and sealing the AL victory. And though Harper put up a nice fight in the final with eight homers, Cespedes was methodical in besting the Nationals' stud.
"I came off the field saying that's not enough," Harper said. "I thought maybe 12. The way [Cespedes] was swinging the bat that first and second round, he wasn't even trying. It was pretty incredible to watch. He's so strong."
So for Harper, it was close but no crown, bro. The crown went to Yo, and it felt as though a new Derby era had ushered in. Fielder was the king of the Derby after his wins in 2009 and '12, but the king went down in Queens, and room was made for a new face of the Derby.
Cespedes claimed it convincingly and promised to come back for more.
"If I have the opportunity," he said, "to participate again next year, God willing, I will absolutely do so."
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