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Hometown fans lift Todd Frazier to Derby win

CINCINNATI -- This wasn't just a story of home runs floating through the Ohio sky. But what was it exactly? Was it a baseball story? Or was it a love story?

This was the story of Todd Frazier, hometown hero, winning the most dramatic Home Run Derby ever staged, on a Monday evening no one in Cincinnati will ever forget.

But it also was the story of the bond between one of baseball's most effervescent players and the fans who showered him with unabashed affection, from his first swing to his last.

Those people in the seats didn't swing the bat for him. Not once. But when this wild night of long balls was over, when Frazier had finished lining the overtime home run that swept him past Joc Pederson in a pulsating 15-14 final, the champ was the first to admit:

He didn't win this alone.

This one was for those 43,587 members of his extended family who chanted his name all night, cheered every out his opponents made and kept his gas tank filled with premium unleaded.

Asked afterward what kind of impact those people had had on him, the Reds third baseman replied: "Big-time impact. Just hearing the crowd roar, call my name, adrenaline. And those last minutes of each round, [they] really picked me up and [helped] drive the ball out of the park a lot more."

In three consecutive rounds of mano a mano Derby drama, Frazier arrived at home plate facing hefty deficits and a ticking clock in center field.

In three consecutive rounds, he would then find himself trailing in the final minute -- first against two-time Derby champ Prince Fielder, then again against Toronto masher Josh Donaldson, then one more time in the final against Pederson.

And in all three rounds, he somehow summoned his inner Michael Jordan -- firing buzzer-beating lightning bolts to rescue himself from the dead.

"That was sick," fellow NL third baseman Nolan Arenado said. "That was one of the coolest things I've ever seen."

In Round 1, Frazier had to sit back and watch Fielder smoke 13 homers -- including a 474-foot moon shot that nearly cleared the right-field seats -- before he ever saw a pitch. And he had a feeling his night might be over before it started.

"Once he had 13," Frazier said with a sigh afterward, "I said, 'Oh man.'"

So just to make this even more entertaining, he heightened the pressure by hitting one home run in his first seven swings. And that turned the next three minutes into pure insanity. He was still five homers down with a minute and a half to go. He was still four behind with a minute to go.

But this would be the beginning of something special. A 424-foot laser beam to left, 13-10. ... A 417-foot rocket into the upper deck, 13-11. ... A fly ball that barely dropped into the first row in left-center with 14 seconds left on the clock, 13-12. ... And one final swing before the clock hit zero -- a 420-foot, tie-it-up rope to left-center as the Great American Ball Park shook. Wow.

Frazier turned to soak in the standing ovation, looked up into the smiles all around him and applauded back. Then he toweled off, stepped back in for his 30 seconds of bonus time and pounded the first pitch thrown by his brother Charlie 455 feet. It cleared the Reds bullpen in deep left-center, soared over the Weber Grills billboard and Prince was left to hug his sons and trudge down the tunnel. Thanks for playing.

"There are baseball gods out there," said the Cubs' Kris Bryant, who stuck around after his first-round exit to watch Frazier do his thing. "And they were on his side today -- as they should be."

But the baseball gods had more fun in store. In Round 2, Frazier dug himself another deep hole against Donaldson by hitting just two home runs in his first 12 swings. He was three down with a minute and a half left on the clock. He was still one behind with a minute left -- and proceeded to go homerless on his next eight swings -- leaving just 13 ticks remaining on the countdown clock.

You know what that meant, of course. He had Josh Donaldson right where he wanted him.

With his next-to-last swing: A 424-foot rifle over the center-field fence. With his final wave of the bat: A majestic 444-foot lunar orbiter that dropped into the Reds bullpen -- as the buzzer sounded.

You're kidding, right? Two rounds. Two buzzer-beaters? Somehow, in the first Derby ever to feature a clock, the Home Run Derby had transformed itself into March Madness. It was a beautiful thing.

"It was really cool, seeing that," Bryant said. "It got me out of my chair. I know that."

Fireworks sparkled. A thunderclap rattled out of the seats. Frazier pumped his fist and waved his thanks to the screaming masses who hadn't sat down for a single pitch he'd seen all night. He was headed for the finals, to face the amazing Pederson.

It was Pederson who had put on the best show of the night, crushing 13 mammoth homers in under three minutes to send Manny Machado home in the first round, then scrambling back from an awful start to beat the great Albert Pujols 12-11 in Round 2.

And in the final, Pederson whomped 14 more homers -- including six in six swings at one point. And that left Frazier needing to piece together the biggest round of his Derby career if he was going to win this thing.

But then the "Let's Go Frazier" chants began. Over and over. Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon" -- the Reds' salute to their favorite Jersey boy -- wafted over the public address system as the crowd clapped along. Frazier stepped out of the box and took in the moment, drawing strength from every decibel.

This time, though, it clearly wasn't to be. With 90 seconds on the clock, he still trailed by seven homers. So at that point, there was nothing left for Frazier to do but let it fly. And this newfangled Derby format, where it was time that mattered instead of outs, was made for one of America's most enthusiastic hackers.

"You swing at everything, really, once you're down," Frazier said, "and no matter how much time you've got. ... I felt like a little kid out there sometimes, in the backyard swinging at everything. It was pretty cool."

Somehow, in a minute and a half, he would get 12 more swings in. And he needed every one of them. Four homers in five swings pulled him to within three. Two more titanic swats, including a 443-foot shooting star to left-center, trimmed the gap to one with just 30 seconds remaining.

But two deep outs left just nine seconds on the clock. His brother, Charlie, was so exhausted at that point that he'd admit "I really can't feel my arm." But Frazier had one more buzzer-beating miracle left in him.

He lofted a towering fly ball to deep left-center, and applied every ounce of body English he could muster to help it carry just beyond the fence. Phew.

One more tidal wave of love came pouring out of the seats. Frazier flashed that ever-present smile, then stepped back in for his 30 seconds of bonus swings, lined the first pitch he saw 10 rows deep into the seats in left. And that was that. Who writes these scripts?

"It's a ton of pressure," Frazier admitted afterward. "You felt like the weight's on your shoulders -- and definitely at the end there, when you're down 14-3, or whatever it was. ...

"It's basically adrenaline and the crowd. That's all," he said. "I thank them for sure -- and him [pointing gratefully at his brother] throwing a nice pitch."

Only once before had a player from the home team won a Home Run Derby. And that was Ryne Sandberg at Wrigley Field -- 25 years ago. Sandberg hit exactly three homers that day, by the way. The rest of the field combined to hit two. So this was slightly more electric. Just slightly.

"Bringing this hardware home is something I've always wanted to do," Frazier said. "And it's just an unbelievable feeling."

He gazed at the trophy that would remind him of this night for the rest of his life. He wished he could share it with every Reds fan who had made this possible.

"Right now," he said, "I'm pretty exhausted ... [But] once I wake up in the morning, I will understand really what happened. It is going to be exciting to see this in my house."