Yoenis Cespedes wins 2013 Home Run Derby in impressive fashionOakland outfielder hits 17 in first round; Captains Cano, Wright bounced early
After 103 total homers and nearly three hours of flight time, Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes was crowned the winner of the 2013 Home Run Derby, besting Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, 9-8, in an action-packed final.
Cespedes was chosen by Robinson Cano to give someone who wouldn't have been here in New York City this week a chance to compete. The outfielder ended up winning $150,000 for Cano's RC24 Foundation, and got himself a new Chevy Silverado to boot, all for taking part in an event he didn't even know he had a realistic chance to be a part of.
"I feel very grateful to Robinson Cano, who asked me to be here," Cespedes said through a translator. "I got a message when we were In Pittsburgh to call him, and he asked me to be here for the Home Run Derby. Maybe he had seen me taking batting practice when we were playing the Yankees, but I got the call, and I was working on my swing for the last couple days in Oakland."
Youth was served at the Derby, as the semifinal was comprised of four first-time competitors. A pair of second-year phenoms ended up as the final two standing. Of course, that youth movement came at the expense of a potential Hollywood ending, as team captains and New York representatives, David Wright (five homers) and Robinson Cano (four), defending-champion Prince Fielder (five) and New York-native Pedro Alvarez (six) were unable to get out of the first round.
Instead, they watched as Cespedes put on an impressive display, taking Athletics third base coach Mike Gallego deep 17 times to earn a spot in the top five all-time single-round totals and, unbeknownst to him at the time, write himself a ticket to the finals.
"When I took my first five swings, I felt that I was really into a rhythm, and felt like I could put on a show," Cespedes said. "This stadium may be hard to hit home runs in, but it's not as difficult as Oakland, and I thought that if I can do it there, why can't I do it here?"
Thanks to the rules stipulating that the two best cumulative totals of the first two rounds reach the finals, Cespedes' lofty opening total left Harper (eight first-round homers), Chris Davis (eight) and Michael Cuddyer (seven) ostensibly battling to see who would face the Cuban slugger in the finale.
Cuddyer started off the semifinals by smashing eight to give himself a total of 15. Davis managed only four for a total of 12, making the current Major League leader the next to be eliminated. That left it up to Harper, who needed seven to force a swing-off with Cuddyer and eight to advance. Harper reached the finals with just two outs remaining.
Cespedes quickly finished out the semis with six of his own for a total of 23, and the stage was set for an epic showdown.
"The [layoff between the first and second rounds] got to me a little bit, but I told Mike Gallego that if he can maintain the same consistency and keep it low to me in the third round that I could get into a rhythm," Cespedes said. "Unfortunately, in the second round, there were a few that were not in my zone, so that prevented me from hitting more than six home runs."
Harper went first in the final and blasted a total of eight home runs, but that would be child's play for Cespedes. Oakland's slugger reached nine in just 14 total swings, punctuating his win with a mammoth shot off the back of the center field batters' eye to capture the title.
"I spoke to my four-year-old son a few days ago and he asked me to dedicate every home run I hit to him, so I did that tonight," Cespedes said. "Robinson Cano and David Ortiz told me to slow down and take my time. This competition isn't about hitting the ball the farthest, it's about hitting the most."
With a final total of 32 homers, Cespedes tied Cano and Ortiz for the third-most in a single Derby, and said that he didn't even realize he had a shot to overtake Josh Hamilton (35 in 2008) and Bobby Abreu (41 in 2005) atop the leaderboard.
"Yes," he said when asked if he would've kept going had he known where he stood, "but Robinson told me that when I got to nine, I could stop."
Cespedes had participated in five derbies in his native Cuba, but said in the end that winning his first in America ranked as the second biggest moment of his career.
"In 2009, I got to play in the World Baseball Classic against Major Leaguers, and I got to play center field in that tournament," he said, "and that meant a lot."
And while he will be unable to attend Tuesday's All-Star Game, Cespedes said he'd love nothing more than to come back and take aim at the fences at Target Field in Minnesota next July.
"God willing, if I get the chance to be here next year to defend my title, I would absolutely love to do it," he said.
One other Home Run Derby note: For the 103 total home runs hit in the Derby, Chevrolet will donate a total of $529,000 to charity, including $150,000 to Cano's foundation. And, in the true spirit of sportsmanship, Chevrolet's representative even forgave Cespedes for the damage he did to the poor truck sitting on the batters' eye in center field.
"That's why we put it out there, to give them a target," laughed Chevrolet vice president of marketing Chris Perry, "and bouncing it off the hood was pretty exciting!"