Yoenis Cespedes knew how to pace himself in this rain-delayed home run derby, drawn out further by a new format.
The Oakland Athletics outfielder simply trusted his own strength.
Cespedes became the first repeat winner of the All-Star skills contest in 15 years, powering his way past Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier 9-1 in the final round Monday night.
Ken Griffey Jr. took the title in 1998 and 1999.
With a serious, determined look on his face the whole time, Cespedes finished with 28 homers. That was four fewer than last year, when he beat Washington’s Bryce Harper 9-8 in the final round.
The 28-year-old Cuban even told Athletics teammate Josh Donaldson he was doing this wrong.
“I knew he wasn’t going to win because his mentality was to take the ball out of the stadium, and I told him that is not the way you win this competition,” Cespedes said through an interpreter.
He added: “I’m somebody who’s very conscious of the power that I have. So I don’t need to put more of a swing or more of an effort in order to hit a home run. I just have to look for a good pitch and put a good swing on it, and it usually takes care of it.”
Cespedes saved his best for last, a 452-foot blast to the third deck above left field that officially measured as the longest of the night. A’s third base coach Mike Gallego again pitched to Cespedes, who went deep 32 times in last year’s derby at Citi Field in New York. Gallego’s arm looked nearly out of gas by the final round, which started after 10:30 p.m. local time.
“Maybe next year I’ll put up a better showing at the end,” Frazier said. “Now that I understand, maybe I’ll do a couple of more push-ups.”
Cespedes topped Toronto’s Jose Bautista, and Frazier surprisingly beat Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton in the semifinals.
Bautista and Stanton each earned a bye to the semifinals under the new bracketed format, which gave each player seven outs and pitted the survivors from each side in the final round. Bautista went deep 10 times in the first round, keeping the fans in the second deck above left field on their toes, and Stanton hit six.
That was all for him, though. After a long wait for his next turn, Stanton put up a zero in the semifinals and let Frazier advance with only one.
Oh, but Stanton’s six were beauties.
One landed in the third deck above left field, about a half-dozen rows shy of the very top of the ballpark. Another reached the second deck above the centre field batter’s eye, a place never touched by a ball during an actual game here.
Bautista, the AL captain, has 11 home runs in 14 regular-season games here, the most by any visiting player. That’s only one less than Twins cornerstone Joe Mauer, who has played 284 career games at Target Field.
Cespedes, who beat Donaldson in a tiebreaker after each finished with three in the first round, breezed by Baltimore’s Adam Jones in the second round. Frazier topped NL captain Troy Tulowitzki on the other side.
Colorado’s Justin Morneau, the fan favourite after 10-plus years and four All-Star games for the host Twins, was eliminated in the first round.
Morneau returned to his roots, and so did the event itself, considering the inaugural contest was held at the Metrodome before the 1985 All-Star game. Admission then was a mere $2, slightly less than the $200-and-up price tags on the derby these days. The original form was actually a 1960s-era television show, featuring sluggers like Harmon Killebrew of the Twins.
Morneau is from New Westminster, B.C.
Delayed 54 minutes by light rain on an unseasonably cool night — even for Minnesota — with a start-time temperature of 59 degrees, the contest began with a rainbow protruding from the clouds beyond left-centre field that framed this limestone-encased ballpark that opened in 2010.
Frazier went first, and while he went deep twice, he didn’t quite reach the rainbow. Neither did Twins second baseman Brian Dozier, the smallest of the participants who had the backing of the crowd with chants of his last name during his two-homer round.
“Even my brother he said he got chills,” said Dozier, one of seven first-time participants. His brother, Clay, was his pitcher.
The loudest roars were for Morneau, the only left-hander in the event his year. His third derby appearance brought the fans to their feet with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck” blaring in the background, and he hit two in the first round before Frazier beat him in the three-swing tiebreaker.
The only player shut out? Dodgers sparkplug Yasiel Puig. He was the first homerless participant since Robinson Cano two years ago in Kansas City.