NEW YORK – The Home Run Derby champion didn’t even make the All-Star team.
Yoenis Cespedes won baseball’s power-hitting competition with a dazzling display Monday night, becoming the first player left out of the All-Star game to take home the crown. The Oakland Athletics slugger beat Bryce Harper 9-8 in the final round at reconfigured Citi Field, hitting the decisive drive with five swings to spare.
In his second major league season, the outfielder from Cuba dropped his bat and raised his arm in triumph when he sent his 32nd homer of the night some 455 feet to deep center field, where it caromed off the back wall of the black batter’s eye. He was swarmed by the American League All-Stars.
“You come for a show in New York. He put on a show,” said Detroit Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer, set to start for the A.L. tonight.
The final addition to the field, Cespedes was the fourth player not selected for the All-Star game to compete in the event.
Right off the bat, he proved he belonged. With family in the stands, Cespedes hit a whopping 17 home runs in the first round – more than any other player managed in their first two trips to the plate.
“I felt that I was getting into a very good rhythm, and that as long as the ball was right over the plate, I felt like I was in a good groove,” Cespedes said through a translator. “That was the key.”
That sent him straight into the finals, though he added six long balls in round two for good measure. Some of his early drives were particularly impressive, too.
Cespedes hit about a half-dozen balls into the upper deck in left, never reached by anyone in a game, and banged another couple of shots off the restaurant windows in the corner just below.
The 27-year-old Cespedes has struggled as a sophomore, batting only .225 with 15 home runs.
“This trophy will motivate me so that things continue to go well for me, and I just want to thank the people that believed in me, that thought I could play at this level,” he said.
The 20-year-old Harper, wearing shiny gold spikes as his father pitched to him, hammered eight homers in all three rounds. But the Washington Nationals phenom couldn’t keep up with Cespedes.
Rockies outfielder Michael Cuddyer and Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis, who leads the majors with 37 homers, were eliminated in the second round. Davis tied Reggie Jackson (1969) for the A.L. record before the All-Star break.