Howard made certain his first trip to the All-Star game would be
a memorable one, beating out the Mets' David Wright to give the
Phillies their second derby winner in as many summers.
"That'll give the fans in Philly something to cheer about,"
said Howard, whose 28 homers at the All-Star break tie him for
second in the NL.
After homering into the Allegheny River earlier, the 2005 NL
Rookie of the Year's fifth and decisive homer in the championship
round banged off a "Hit It Here" sign above the right-field
stands to give a lucky fan 500 free round-trip air tickets.
"I didn't know I'd hit the sign, but that's great," said
Howard, who insists he hasn't tried to hit homers in batting
practice since playing at Southwest Missouri State.
Howard also said he didn't try to reach the river on the fly,
saying, "I was trying to take some good hacks, and it just ended
up there. I just tried to relax and make sure it was a perfect
Wright, with Mets catcher Paul Lo Duca throwing to him, had a
big edge after the first round with 16, or six more than any other
competitor. But he had only six in the next two rounds, and Howard
won the final with extra at-bats to spare.
"Once you get past that first round you want to win, so it's a
little disappointing," Wright said.
Wright's 16 homers were the third most of any round in the
derby's 21-year history, though he hit eight fewer than Abreu's
record-breaking 24 a year ago in Detroit. Abreu went on to win the
2005 competition with 41, or 14 more than any other winner. He
wasn't eligible this year after not being chosen for the All-Star
PNC Park, with its distant fences in left and left-center and
short, 320-foot porch in right field, favors left-handed batters,
but the right-handed Wright repeatedly reached the seats with ease.
But while Abreu's 24 homers did not carry over to the second
round, a rules change enacted this year meant Wright's did. That
gave the Mets third baseman a six-homer advantage over Boston's
David Ortiz before any second-round homers were hit, all but
guaranteeing Wright a spot in the finals even though he hit only
two in the second round.
Howard made a big push to get into the final round, hitting 10
homers in the second round for a two-round total of 18 to tie
Wright and bypass Ortiz and Florida's Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera had
nine homers in the first round and six in the second.
"I just tried to get locked in, get some pitches and try not to
make the last out," Howard said.
The totals did not carry over into the final round, when Howard
outhomered Wright 5-4.
Ortiz hit 10 in the first round, down from his 17 of a year ago
-- the second most in any round since the event began in 1985.
Ortiz's 31 homers at the break are the most ever by a Red Sox
But after hitting ball after ball into the Allegheny River on
the fly or bounce in the first round, Ortiz fell off by hitting
only three in the second round -- just as he did in missing last
year's final in Detroit.
Many derby hitters like to bring a preferred batting practice
pitcher with them, but Wright might have been the first to rely on
a fellow All-Star. Lo Duca tried to locate the ball where Wright
likes it the most, down and in.
"I was a pitcher in high school," Lo Duca said. "Now you see
why I'm not."
Lo Duca threw to Wright before Sunday's game against the
Marlins, and something must have worked as Wright went on to hit
his 20th homer of the season. The two also had a batting practice
session Monday morning.
As he stepped into the batter's box for the final round, Wright
yelled to the mound: "Come on, Dukey. Let's go."
Ortiz, Berkman and Howard all found the Allegheny River behind
the right-field stands on the fly, a feat accomplished only once in
regular season play. Daryle Ward did it for the Astros in July 2002
with a drive estimated at 479 feet.
The fans at PNC Park don't see as many homers as they would like
from the last-place Pirates, so they cheered every homer and
reacted loudly to any ball that looked river-bound. And while
Pittsburgh is an NL city, the biggest cheers and the brightest
flashbulb bursts were for Ortiz.
Not only was PNC Park sold out -- the crowd of 38,702 has been
topped only once for a Pirates game -- hundreds of fans lined the
Roberto Clemente Bridge behind center field for a free but distant