Cespedes edges Harper for title in Home Run Derby

Jerry Beach, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes capped an impressive power-hitting display Monday night with a 9-8 win over Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in the championship round of the Home Run Derby at Citi Field.
Cespedes wowed the crowd with 17 first-round homers but looked rusty in hitting just six second-round homers following a 92-minute break. He regained his first-round form in a hurry, though, upon stepping to the plate at 10:47, six minutes after Harper completed his hacks.
Cespedes hit a line-drive homer to left field on his first swing. He didn't homer on three of his next four swings but then hit three deep homers on his next three swings. After barely missing a homer on his ninth swing -- the ball bounced off the center-field wall -- he homered on four of his final five swings, with each blast more impressive than the last.
On his final swing, Cespedes hit the ball off the black just below advertising signage in center field. He flipped the bat in celebration and watched it leave the park before embracing American League teammates.
Cespedes won the title with five outs to spare. He finished with 32 homers.
Cespedes became only the second Oakland player to win the Home Run Derby. Mark McGwire was the champion in 1992 -- three months before Harper was born.
Harper opened the championship round with a flourish by homering on his first three swings. The first two homers landed in almost the same spot in the upper-right-field deck while the third one bounced off advertising signage in right-center field.
After three straight outs, Harper alternated homers with outs on his next six swings. His seventh homer, which almost cleared the seats in right-center field, was the most impressive blast of the championship round.
Harper was trying to become the youngest Home Run Derby champion, as well as the first member of the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos franchise to win.
Cespedes, the final player added to the AL squad by captain Robinson Cano and just the fourth player in the 28-year history of the event to make a Derby team without being on the All-Star team, ensured himself a spot in the finals with a dazzling first round in front of a sellout crowd of 43,558.
Cespedes hit 17 homers in the first round alone, more than any other competitor had in the first two rounds combined. And few of Cespedes' homers resembled "cheapies." He hit at least five homers into the left field third deck and another one off the fa├žade.
The 17 homers were the most in the first round since Josh Hamilton's record-setting 28-homer burst at Yankee Stadium in 2008.
Harper advanced to the finals against Cespedes with 16 homers -- eight in each of the first two rounds. He outlasted the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer (15 homers) and AL home run leader Chris Davis (12 homers) of the Orioles.
Cuddyer homered seven times in the first round and eight times in the second. Davis, who tied an American League record with 37 homers before the All-Star break, hit eight homers in Round 1 but just four in Round 2.
The captains and hometown favorites, Cano and Mets third baseman David Wright, were the final two batters to step to the plate in the first round. Cano finished last with four homers and Wright tied for next-to-last with five.
Cano, who won the 2011 Derby but didn't hit a single homer in last year's competition, finished last for the second straight year.
Two straight homers by Wright inspired the Mets-centric crowd to start chanting "Let's go, Mets!" But after homering on his next swing, he went homerless in his final five attempts.
Another contestant with New York ties, Pirates third baseman and Manhattan native Pedro Alvarez, was also eliminated after Round 1 with six homers.
Prince Fielder, who was trying to become only the second player to win the Derby three times, got the evening off to a quiet start with five homers.
NOTES: Tony LaRussa, who managed his final big-league game as the National League skipper in last year's All-Star Game, took in batting practice from behind the cage. "I always loved the All-Star Game, get the best players in the world," LaRussa said. "That's why I come out to watch batting practice." LaRussa announced his retirement shortly after the St. Louis Cardinals won the 2011 World Series. ... The out-of-town scoreboard at Citi Field reflected the All-Star Game scores dating back to 1996 -- with the exception of the 2002 game that ended in a tie. ... Harper became the first Nationals player to participate in the Home Run Derby since the franchise moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005. Four Expos participated in the Derby: Hubie Brooks (1986), Larry Walker (1992), Henry Rodriguez (1996) and Vladimir Guerrero (2000). ... At 20 years and 269 days old, Harper was the second-youngest player to ever take part in the Derby. Ken Griffey Jr. was 39 days younger when he made his Derby debut in 1990.

What to Read Next