Yoenis outslugs Harper for Derby title
A's outfielder doesn't look back after 17-homer first round
NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes' splendid night at Citi Field ended with a bat flip and a thunderous home run off the batter's eye, way past the Big Apple and two trucks stationed in center field, and it was absolutely perfect.
Cespedes is the 2013 Chevrolet Home Run Derby champion after outslugging Washington's Bryce Harper, 9-8, in the final. The outfielder's Derby-winning home run, a 455-foot rocket to center field, clinched the title for the Oakland outfielder, making him the first Cuban-born player to win the trophy.
Cespedes, who dedicated the contest to his 4-year-old son and had six family members in attendance, hit a total of 32 home runs and they averaged 405 feet.
"This stadium may be very difficult, but it's not as difficult as Oakland," he said. "And if I can do it in Oakland, I thought, why can't I do it here?"
DEEP INTO THE NIGHT
|Josh Hamilton||28||First||Yankee Stadium||2008|
|Bobby Abreu||24||First||Comerica Park||2005|
|Yoenis Cespedes||17||First||Citi Field||2013|
|David Ortiz||17||First||Comerica Park||2005|
|David Wright||16||First||PNC Park||2006|
|Miguel Tejada||15||Semis||Minute Maid Park||2004|
|Albert Pujols||14||Semis||U.S. Cellular Field||2003|
|Jason Giambi||14||First||Safeco Field||2001|
The Cespedes show started early.
He launched 17 home runs in the first round, including several majestic shots into the third deck in left field and a 456-foot moonshot to center. His homers sent the crowd into a frenzy because each one seemed to move faster and farther than the previous one and secured him a spot in the finals.
"Before I came, they asked me if I was going to be nervous because I would be participating in front of possibly 50,000 people," Cespedes said. "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."
Cespedes didn't need to hit in the second round to advance to the final, but he did anyway, tallying six more homers and hitting one of the Chevy trucks in center along the way.
"That was the exciting part for us, but that's the reason why we put it out there was to give him a target to aim for, and bouncing off the hood was pretty exciting," said Chris Perry, vice president of Chevrolet marketing.
When Cespedes wasn't sending souvenirs into the stands, he was chatting with Reds closer Aroldis Chapman, his former teammate in Cuba, or receiving Derby tips from Boston's David Ortiz. Oakland coach Mike Gallego deserves some credit for throwing the balls perfectly into Cespedes' wheelhouse.
"Robinson Cano and David Ortiz came up to me and said, 'Don't hurry; take your time,'" Cespedes said. "When David Ortiz came to me during the first round, he said, 'Take it easy; slow down. You're going great.'"
The slugger's 17-homer first round tied for third all-time in a single round of the Derby with Ortiz's first round at Comerica Park in 2005. Josh Hamilton's 28 in the first round at Yankee Stadium in '08 are the most, with Bobby Abreu's 24 in the first round at Comerica Park in '05 sitting at second.
Cespedes also joined Rafael Palmeiro (2004), Hee-Seop Choi (2005) and Ryan Howard (2007) as players to participate in the Derby without having been selected as an All-Star. He is the first A's player to participate in the Home Run Derby since Jason Giambi in 2001.
"I would say [the Derby title] ranks second in my career, because in 2009, I was able to play in the World Baseball Classic against Major League players," Cespedes said. "I was able to play center field in those games, and that meant a lot."
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Cespedes will not be the dugout Tuesday because of a family obligation, but he's already had quite an experience.
"It's far different from in Cuba. There might be two people at our games," he said. " There's only one photographer, and this is completely different and foreign to me. But I'm very happy to be here giving an interview with all of you people here in front of me, and it makes me very proud."
Cespedes' night tied him for third on the Derby's all-time list, and he said he would have tried to hit more home runs in the second round if he would have known his ranking.
Maybe he'll get a chance next year. The outfielder said he is ready to defend his title.
"If I have the opportunity to play, to participate again next year, God willing, I will absolutely do so," he said.