CINCINNATI -- Seeds, brackets, buzzer-beaters ... it’s like we went to the Home Run Derby and the NCAA tournament broke out. I kept expecting John Tesh to come out and play “One Shining Moment” on a piano between hitters. In the end, the fans of Cincinnati got that moment to remember when hometown hero Todd Frazier rallied to beat out Joc Pederson in a memorable duel at the Home Run Derby.
Pederson had gone first in the final and cranked out 14 home runs, including six in a row in an amazing, 35-second spurt of laser-beam line drives and towering blasts to right field. It appeared the kid who had said earlier in the day that he didn't hit his first home run until he was a junior in high school was going to be the Cinderella derby champion.
Under the format, Frazier had four minutes, with a possible 30 seconds of bonus time if he hit at least two home runs of 425 feet. But he got off to a slow start with his brother Charlie Frazier pitching, sitting at just two home runs by the 3:15 mark. He then hit three in rapid-fire succession but called his timeout at 2:35 sitting at five home runs.
Reds fans started chanting like they were at a basketball game. "Let's go Frazier" ... clap-clap-clap ... "Let's go Frazier" ... clap-clap-clap. Todd Frazier didn't hit his sixth until 1:58 was left on the clock. It was definitely time for what my colleague Tim Keown called aerobic BP. Boom, boom, boom. Frazier hit his 13th with 33 seconds remaining, made two outs and then tied Pederson with 10 seconds left. His final swing fell short at the warning track, but he had earned his bonus time.
He needed only one to win, and he did it on his first swing. The crowd went wild.
"Big-time impact," Todd Frazier said of the crowd. "Just hearing the crowd roar, call my name, adrenaline. And those last minutes of each round really picked me up to drive the ball out of the park a lot more."
Todd celebrated with Charlie and Jeff Frazier, another brother who played nine games with the Tigers in 2010, and Reds teammate Aroldis Chapman. The Home Run Derby receives a lot of criticism, but don't tell the fans at Great American Ball Park that it wasn't a fun, entertaining event.
The new format was definitely an improvement. Each hitter had four minutes to crank as many home runs as possible, with one 45-second timeout allotted to take a breath, mop off some sweat and remind their pitcher to throw it in the sweet spot. Each matchup was its own little mini-tournament, meaning we wouldn't have to go through all eight hitters to see who advanced. The clock meant a more rapid-fire approach to each hitter's round -- no constant toweling off after every third pitch like Rafael Nadal playing a five-set match in 90-degree heat at the U.S. Open.
In the first round, Frazier was matched up against two-time champion Prince Fielder, of the Texas Rangers, who went first and swatted 13 home runs, a total that would tie for the second-highest of the round. But it wasn't enough, as Frazier sent the crowd into a frenzy, tying Fielder with two home runs in his final 30 seconds and then surpassing him with his 14th in bonus time. With each home run, the crowd got louder and louder until they celebrated like Pete Rose winning a pick-six.
In the second round, Frazier faced off against Josh Donaldson, who hit nine home runs, leaving the door open for the Toddfather. Sitting at six home runs with 1:49 left, he called his timeout. With Charlie, who played six years in the minors, pitching to him, Todd was up to eight with 1:08 remaining but was tiring, even hitting a couple of ground balls, akin to missing those clutch free throws down the stretch. But then he hit his ninth off the glass behind the hill in center field and clocked his 10th at the buzzer to move into the final. Jeff greeted Charlie with a chest bump. In the Home Run Derby, you're only as good as your pitcher. A little brotherly love helps, as well.
(Yes, there were complaints on Twitter that the Frazier clan wasn't waiting for the ball to land before delivering the next pitch. By rule, "A pitcher cannot throw a pitch until a batted ball has hit the ground, was caught or left the field of play in foul territory. I could make a joke about Cincinnati and breaking rules, but that would be a cheap shot.)
In the other semifinal, Pederson edged out Albert Pujols 12 to 11, Pujols missing on his final two swings with a chance to tie. Pederson's impressive display shouldn't have been a surprise, as he entered the Derby with the longest average home run distance of any of the eight sluggers -- he hit the longest of the night, a 487-foot blast in the first round. It would have been a great story if the rookie had won. We ended up with a better one.
Cut down that net, Todd.