For all the talk leading up to the All-Star week festivities about whether a certain Cuban outfielder would be allowed to display his talents on the national stage, it was another Cuban native who stole the show at Monday's Home Run Derby.
With the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig nowhere to be found at Citi Field, Yoenis Cespedes reminded everyone that he was Puig before Puig: a multi-tooled outfielder with a flair for the dramatic and more than a little pop in his bat. Cespedes, the A's second-year leftfielder and the lone non-All-Star in this year's Home Run Derby, turned in one of the best performances in Derby history. He blasted 17 home runs in the first round, 32 overall and used up just five of his 10 outs in the finals before defeating the Nationals' Bryce Harper with a 455-foot shot off the wall behind the batters eye in straight-away centerfield.
It has already been an unforgettable month for Cespedes, who was reunited with his family in Miami a little more than a week ago. In his first All-Star week appearance, Cespedes celebrated by doing what he does best: crushing baseballs. His 17 first-round homers, which averaged 410.6 feet, tied David Ortiz's 2005 first-round performance for the third most in a single round, and his 32 homers in the Derby also tied Ortiz (in 2010) and the man who picked Cespedes for this year's Derby, American League captain Robinson Cano (in 2011) for the third most in a single Derby. Asked afterward if would have continued hitting had he known he was that close to moving up the leader list (Josh Hamilton's second-place total of 35 from 2008 was well within range), he quickly replied, "sí," adding, via a translator, "Cano told me, 'once you hit nine, you can stop.' "
As impressive as Cespedes was Monday night, this Derby was also notable for the performance of the players at the bottom of the standings. Cano had the Derby's lowest home run total with four, making this the first time in the event's 29-year history every participant hit at least four home runs. That made this a particularly competitive Derby, one in which the seven men behind Cespedes in the first-round standings were separated by just four home runs, and the difference between advancing and being eliminated in each round was just one home run. In total, there were 104 homers hit, a close third behind the 108 hit in 2006 (when Bobby Abreu hit 41 and won) and the 105 hit at Yankee Stadium in 2008 (when Hamilton hit 35 overall but actually finished second to Justin Morneau). Again, had Cespedes kept going after hitting his winning home run, this could easily have been the most prolific Derby ever.
As for Cespedes, he said in the post-game press conference winning the Derby ranked second only to participating in the 2009 World Baseball Classic against major league players as his biggest thrill in baseball and he would very much like to defend his title next year. Here's hoping he gets the chance.