SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – With Barry Bonds sitting out, this derby was dry – and Vladimir Guerrero was San Francisco’s home run king for a day.
The Los Angeles Angels slugger won the Home Run Derby on Monday night, hitting 17 homers and beating Toronto’s Alex Rios 3-2 in the final round of the All-Star competition.
None of the eight sluggers managed a true “splash hit” over the right-field fence and into the waterfront park’s iconic McCovey Cove. Dozens of eager fans wearing wetsuits and carrying nets amid the flotilla of kayaks and rafts ended up scrambling for just a handful of foul balls and ricochets during nearly six hours of batting practice and derby slugging.
But the four semifinalists sent balls into every other corner of a park that’s usually a nightmare for any hitter not named Bonds.
Guerrero, who managed just two homers in his only previous derby appearance back in 2000, also produced the contest’s most fearsome shot: a 503-footer to left that fell just short of the oversized baseball mitt looming over the outfield bleachers – a target that still hasn’t been hit during a game in the park’s 8-year history.
Rios, added to the derby field on Sunday, had a remarkable 12-homer binge in the second round, but lost his swing in the final, managing just two more to finish with 19.
Guerrero homered on his first pitch in the final before finishing it with three swings to spare, casually discarding his bat and not even watching as his final shot settled in the left-field stands.
Bonds, who’s just four homers shy of tying Hank Aaron’s career homer record of 755, turned down the chance to participate in the homer contest, though he took part in early batting practice and stuck around to watch the sluggers.
Bonds claimed the toll from an afternoon’s swings would be too exhausting and disruptive before Tuesday’s game, when he’ll start in left field and bat second for the NL squad. He hit a handful of homers during batting practice for the thousands of fans who showed up two hours early for the derby.
The sluggers started slowly: Three batters held the first-round lead with five homers apiece, the lowest leading total in the first round since the derby went to a three-round format in 1995.
Defending champion Ryan Howard, who managed just three homers, hit a 410-foot shot that died in the 421-foot corner of right-center, prompting him to rip off his hat in mock frustration.
“It’s a tough thing to do,” Howard said of the dearth of splash hits. “I don’t think any guys were trying to yank it down there. Guys are just trying to stay with their natural swing.”
All three left-handed hitters in the competition paid for their inability to reach the water consistently: They were all eliminated in a park that caters to Bonds’ swing. Three of the four right-handed sluggers who advanced to the second round were added to the competition in the previous 24 hours.
Minnesota’s Justin Morneau, Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder, Detroit’s Magglio Ordonez and Howard were eliminated in the first round.
Rios hit five consecutive homers on his last swing in the second round to finish with 17 over the first two rounds, pushing him past Colorado’s Matt Holliday. Guerrero followed with nine second-round homers to eliminate Holliday – including that 503-foot shot to a previously unexplored area.
Albert Pujols, who hasn’t homered for the Cardinals since June 14 during the longest drought of his career, finished one homer shy of the finalists.
Hours before the late-afternoon events, dozens of personal watercraft crammed into McCovey Cove. The amphibious spectators took advantage of gorgeous weather to pack the water passage that has become perhaps the most beautiful place in baseball to deposit a home run.
The Giants fired off their three water cannons on the arcade atop the right-field wall for each homer, lightly misting the fans packed into the small space. The club also reset the digital counter on the outfield wall that keeps track of splash hits, as the waterbound homers are known during the regular season.