New York fans may have been disappointed Robinson Cano and David Wright failed to get out of the first round in the Home Run Derby. But the final round between Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes and Washington’s Bryce Harper eased any letdown they might have felt.
Cespedes secured the title, hitting nine runs in the final round and 32 overall drawing oohs and ahhs from the crowd after every ball he hit.
“I felt very grateful to the people, Robinson Cano, who asked me to come here,” Cespedes said through an interpreter. “During the first round, while I took my first five swings, I felt that I was really into a rhythm and I felt that I could put on a show like I did tonight.”
Harper’s first three swings of the final round were home runs. He hit consecutive home runs to right field on his 12th and 13th swings but did not any more.
The 2012 runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, Cespedes was not even on the All-Star team and had not homered in his last 71 at-bats. He wound up becoming the first Athletic to win the event since Mark McGwire in 1992 at San Diego and also tied for third all time in homers in the event with Robinson Cano and David Ortiz, who were constantly telling him to slow down and pace himself.
"He's incredible,” Harper said. “The guy's a machine. He's a lot of fun to watch. What a great competitor he is. I can't wait until I'm 23 years old. ... He's so special. He's an amazing talent."
Cespedes also continued a trend of Cuban-born players putting on a show in New York ballparks this season. Cespedes hit an impressive home run at Yankee Stadium on May 5, Dodgers’ rookie Yasiel Puig wowed fans on June 19 with an impressive home run in a doubleheader and Boston’s Jose Iglesias has batted .545 in six games at Yankee Stadium.
It was not the first home run derby Cespedes competed in.
He competed in five during his nine seasons in Cuba, though he estimated the crowds there to be in the low-30,000s and this one had extra meaning because his mother was among six family members in the stands and he dedicated his performance to his 4-year-old son back in Cuba.
“I’m not sure if they were able to see this in Cuba, but I did speak to my 4-year-old son a few days ago and he told me whatever home runs I hit to dedicate it to him and that’s what I did here,” Cespedes said.
Cespedes had five outs left when he tied Harper with a drive that deflected off the glass wall in front of the Acela Club. If that wasn’t impressive enough, his clinching drive was an estimated 455-foot shot to straightaway center field that bounced off the camera well.
All of those drives are rare for regular-season games at Citi Field, where the longest regular-season home run was a 465-foot shot to straightaway center field by Marlins’ outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on May 16, 2011.
Cespedes, however, reminded everyone that hitting in his spacious home ballpark is even tougher and also said he plans on defending the title next season at Minnesota.
“This stadium may be very difficult, but it’s not as difficult as Oakland,” Cespedes said. “And if I can do it in Oakland, I thought why can’t I do it here.”
Cespedes came into the final round with 23 homers, highlighted by an impressive, 17-home run display in the opening round that featured three home runs which landed in the second deck in left field.
He hit six more in the second round, highlighting that portion with a drive that hit the front windshield of the promotional truck parked beyond the center field wall and another that bounced off the front window of the Acela Club in front of the overflow media section.
Cano, the 2011 winner in Arizona, finished with four home runs, which put him three away from a swing-off with Michael Cuddyer. Wright, the 2006 runner-up in Pittsburgh, finished with five, two behind his close friend from the Norfolk, Va. area
Two-time defending champion Prince Fielder failed to get past the first round as he totaled five. Major-league home run and RBI leader Chris Davis finished fourth with 12 home runs.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.