BP: Hamilton rescues a rather drab Derby with scintillating stretch
NEW YORK -- From my "Sent Items" folder:
Yeah, about that.
I sent that just as Justin Morneau was wrapping up his turn in the first round, one that had seen very few memorable moments. In fact, the biggest cheer of the first hour or so of the Home Run Derby was for one of the kids shagging flies, who made a sweet running catch in right-center field. The pace was slow, with regular breaks for television, for awards ceremonies and other sponsored elements. With the humidity and the lack of action, it was something short of an electric evening.
Then Josh Hamilton stepped in, and on the first pitch he saw hit a bomb about halfway up the right-centerfield bleachers.
Jason Grey of ESPN turned to me and said, "This could get interesting."
A few minutes later, Hamilton reached the back of those same bleachers, a place few hitters ever get. Before my jaw resumed its upright and locked position, Hamilton hit a ball off of the bank advertisement that sits on the wall above the bleachers. He then hit one that came just short of the DiamondVision board at the right edge of the bleachers. In two minutes, Hamilton had hit three of the longest home runs I've ever seen in this park.
He was just getting started. Over the next 20 minutes, Hamilton hit a total of 28 home runs, including 13 in a row at one point. He hit a series of blasts into the upper deck, a few more scattered through the right-center bleachers, a pair of balls into the "black seats" in center field. Along the way he converted a crowd that had been fairly apathetic to that point -- largely ignoring Yankee broadcaster Michael Kay's repeated requests that they cheer one guy or another on -- into Josh Hamilton's 50,000 biggest fans. Chants of "Ham-il-ton" and "M-V-P" spread from the bleachers to the crowd, each bomb off of Hamilton's bat raising the volume a bit more. Hamilton batted for so long that he needed a water break, as did his personal pitcher, Clay Counsil, who might well end up in "Under the Knife" after throwing more than 50 pitches in his inning. Hamilton batted for so long that Milton Bradley toweled him off twice, getting more camera time than Erin Andrews. Hamilton batted for so long that he set the record for homers in a single round, shattering the previous mark, 24, set by Bobby Abreu in Detroit three years ago.
Hamilton batted so long that he saved the Home Run Derby.
No one is going to remember that Josh Hamilton didn't win this event, or that Justin Morneau did. Hamilton hit a handful of homers in an abbreviated second round, then just three in the finals, losing to Morneau's five. After getting into rhythm during his streak, the way BP should work, he was pickier about pitches and stepping out a lot more in the finals, arguably trying a bit too hard. The crowd wanted no part of a Morneau victory, cheering him tepidly during his turn and during his acceptance speech.
It doesn't matter; the Home Run Derby has never been about who wins. It's about a player doing something people will remember, and it was Hamilton who did that on Monday night. The player whose story has been getting better by the day reached a peak as high as the arc on his homers, and in doing so he provided a signature moment to this week's twin celebration of the game's greatest players and its most hallowed venue.
The House That Ruth Built, 85 years old, goes out as The House That Hamilton Brought Down.
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