Cespedes shines bright in the Big Apple
Yoenis Cespedes holds the championship trophy after winning the MLB Home Run Derby on Monday night. (AP)
NEW YORK -- The bat flip said it all.
And anyone who has had the opportunity to watch Yoenis Cespedes take batting practice could see this coming.
Cespedes, the A's hard-hitting left fielder with a swing as violent as it is pretty, put on a show Monday night at CitiField. The Cuban slugger beat Washington wunderkind Bryce Harper to win the Home Run Derby in front of an impressed crowd of 43,558 by hitting nine home runs in the final round, including the clincher that was estimated at 455 feet to dead center that elicited said bat flip. Harper had eight homers in the final round.
"I feel very grateful to Robinson Cano, who asked me to come here," Cespedes said in Spanish. "In the first round, when I took my first five swings, I felt I was really in a rhythm, that I could put on a show like I did tonight."
Indeed, Cespedes' power display elicited oohs and ahhs in the first round, when he went deep 17 times, five of his homers reaching the third deck in left field at CitiField. The 17 homers were tied with David Ortiz (2005) for third-most in a single round in derby history, behind Josh Hamilton (28 in 2008) and Bobby Abreu (24 in 2005).
Cespedes clinched a spot in the championship round before taking a swing in the semifinals but added six homers for good measure in that round.
He ended up with 32 homers, averaging 405 feet, and the total was tied for third-most in a derby, along with Ortiz (2010) and Cano (2011). Abreu hit 41 in 2005 and Hamilton had 35 in 2008.
CitiField is known as one often toughest stadiums in the big leagues in which to go deep. Was Cespedes intimidated?
"This stadium may be difficult," he said, "but not as difficult as Oakland. And if I can do it in Oakland, I thought, why can't I do it here?"
True enough, Cespedes was the lone derby participant not named an All-Star, the fourth in Midsummer Classic history with Ryan Howard the most recent in 2007. Cespedes was selected as a "wild card" entry by Cano after, according to Yahoo! sports, Toronto declined an offer to Jose Bautista.
Cespedes was with six family members, including his mother Estela Milanes, who was a softball star in Cuba herself. She said it felt as if her "heart" was going to jump out of her chest.
"It's marvelous," she said. "I'm so happy and proud."
No doubt those family members remaining in Cuba, including his son Yoenis Jr., were also filled with pride when news filtered back.
"I did speak to my four-year-old son a few days ago," he said. "And he told me that whatever home runs I hit, to please dedicate to (him). That's what I did here."
Yes, there might have been a special pride in winning the event that may not have existed for previous winners. And it's up there on his list of achievements, he said, ranking it just behind playing center field for Cuba against established big leaguers in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Of course there was the requisite question about his countryman, Dodgers phenom Yasiel Puig, and who would win a derby between the two.
"Not to be disrespectful against him," Cespedes said, "but I know him, and this is not the type of competition where he would excel. he's not really a home run hitter, so I believe I would win."
Cespedes, who said he competed in five derbies in Cuba, was not smiling.
Nor was he when each and every pitch floated in from A's third-base coach Mike Gallego. Cespedes was the first A's player to participate in the derby since Jason Giambi in 2001, the first A's player to win since Gallego's old teammate Mark McGwire, in 1992.
So what affect, if any, might his winning the derby have on the A's as a team, even as they sit in first place in the American League West at the break with a two-game lead over Texas?
"It definitely should motivate us to get even better," he said. "I know a lot of fans will be waiting for us, as well as my teammates. Before I left, they wished me well and to be victorious, to bring home the trophy."
It's on its way.