NEW YORK -- Now that's a pretty good pinch-hitter.
American League captain Robinson Cano had originally wanted Miguel Cabrera as the fourth member of his Home Run Derby squad, but when Cabrera decided to pass due to back soreness, Cano called up A's outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, not a member of the All-Star team but known throughout the league for his legendary batting practice displays.
Now we all know why they're legendary, right up there with the batting practices that former A's Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco used to put on that would draw fans out to American League ballparks two hours before game time in the late 1980s.
Cespedes mashed an impressive 17 home runs in the first round, tied for the third-highest total in a round, behind only Josh Hamilton's 28 in 2008 at Yankee Stadium and Bobby Abreu's 24 at Comerica Park in 2005 (David Ortiz also hit 17 at Comerica). Cespedes launched deep drives to left field, towering shots to center and a low screamer in the final that cleared the fence in the left-field corner by inches, helping him to defeat Bryce Harper 9-8 in the final round, with five outs to spare.
Conventional wisdom was that only All-Stars participated in the Home Run Derby, but there's no "rule" that prohibits non-All-Stars from being selected in the contest. Cespedes' victory is a reminder that we should have Giancarlo Stanton in this thing, or maybe even Yasiel Puig. Let's keep that in mind for next year.
As for Harper, maybe you don't like the hair. Maybe you don't like the hype. Maybe you don't even like that he was included in the Home Run Derby since he missed time in the first half and hit just 13 home runs. But you better get used to him, you're going to be watching a lot of him over the next 20 years. He's already a two-time All-Star. As a rookie, he helped a franchise reach the postseason for the first time since 1981. He's going to get many more chances to become a Home Run Derby champ.
Nomar Garciaparra said it on TV and I concur: Harper's home runs seemed to leave the park the quickest, as he can hit low, screaming line drives that carry enough to clear the fences. In a way, those types of home runs are just as impressive as the towering shots Cespedes launched in the first and final rounds.
As for Cespedes, he hasn't matched the great season he had last year, hitting just .225/.293/.420, although the A's lead the American League West at the break. Maybe that enormous swing he impressed with Monday night hurts him sometimes against real pitching -- he expands the strike zone too much at times, leading to a poor strikeout/walk ratio at the plate. But the talent is incredible, and it was great to expose a national TV audience to a guy they don't normally get to watch.
Maybe that's the lesson to be learned from this Home Run Derby: Keep an eye on Cespedes and the rest of his teammates in the second half. They're not going away.
And get to the park a little early if the A's are in town.