Guerrero edges Rios to win dry Home Run Derby
None of the eight batters managed a true "splash hit" over the right-field fence and into the waterfront park's iconic McCovey Cove. Dozens of eager fans wearing wetsuits and carrying nets amid the flotilla of kayaks and rafts ended up scrambling for just a handful of foul balls and ricochets during nearly six hours of batting practice and derby slugging.
But the four semifinalists sent balls into every other corner of a park that's usually a nightmare for any hitter not named Bonds.
Guerrero, who managed just two homers in his only previous derby appearance back in 2000, also produced the contest's most fearsome shot: a 503-footer to left that fell just short of the oversized baseball mitt looming over the outfield bleachers -- a target that still hasn't been hit during a game in the park's 8-year history.
"The first time I came in 2000, I swung at every pitch, so you learn," Guerrero said through an interpreter. "I came back this year with a different philosophy. I was going to try to take a pitch between, to rest a little bit."
Guerrero indulged in various shenanigans with his friends and AL teammates during the first two rounds, re-taping his fingers and getting a towel-down in the middle of competition -- and when Guerrero failed to homer on his first three swings in the first round, David Ortiz made a special delivery.
The Boston star charged to home plate, dramatically tossed away Guerrero's bat and called for a friend to carry a large wooden case to them. After removing a new bat from the case, Ortiz kissed the lumber and presented it to Guerrero, who used it to hit five homers on his next nine swings.
"It was my bat, and we had it planned if I wasn't doing well at the beginning, he was going to bring it out to me," said Guerrero, who slept late Monday to rest up after finishing a nine-game road trip with the Angels in New York.
He was all business in the final, homering on his first pitch before finishing it with three swings to spare. Guerrero casually discarded his bat and didn't even watch as his final shot settled in the left-field stands, celebrating with his cousin from the Dominican Republic.
Rios, added to the derby field on Sunday, had a remarkable 12-homer binge in the second round, but lost his swing in the final, managing just two more to finish with 19.
"It was the pitcher just throwing me the ball where I wanted," Rios said. "I was a little surprised at how far they carried. ... I guess I just didn't warm up enough (before the final)."
Bonds, who's just four homers shy of tying Hank Aaron's career homer record of 755, turned down the chance to participate in the homer contest, though he took part in early batting practice and stuck around to watch the derby with Alex Rodriguez, the majors' homers leader with 30 for the Yankees.
Bonds claimed the toll from an afternoon's swings would be too exhausting and disruptive before Tuesday's game, when he'll start in left field and bat second for the NL squad. The 14-time All-Star hit a handful of homers during batting practice for the thousands of fans who showed up two hours early for the derby.
The sluggers started slowly: Three batters held the first-round lead with five homers apiece, the lowest leading total in the first round since the derby went to a three-round format in 1995.
Defending champion Ryan Howard, who managed just three homers, hit a 410-foot shot that died in the 421-foot corner of right-center, prompting him to rip off his hat in mock frustration.
"It's a tough thing to do," Howard said of the dearth of splash hits. "I don't think any guys were trying to yank it down there. Guys are just trying to stay with their natural swing."
Rios hit five consecutive homers on his last swing in the second round to finish with 17 over the first two rounds, pushing him past Colorado's Matt Holliday. Guerrero followed with nine second-round homers to eliminate Holliday -- including that 503-foot shot to a previously unexplored area.
Albert Pujols, who hasn't homered for the Cardinals since June 14 during the longest drought of his career, finished one homer shy of the finalists.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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