Prince steals show from Pujols, captures Home Run Derby crown

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Tonight was supposed to be Albert Pujols' night, but Prince Fielder and Nelson Cruz had other ideas.

Pujols, the Cardinals first baseman whose 32 home runs lead the majors by a wide margin, entered as the heavy favorite to win Monday's All-Star Home Run Derby in front of 45,981 adoring hometown fans. When he stepped to the plate in the eighth and final slot of the competition's first round, as dusk fell in St. Louis and flashbulbs popped madly, the stage seemed set for him to add to his remarkable legacy. But Pujols only managed to squeak out of the first round by virtue of winning a tie-breaking "swing off" -- and he had to press to get even that far -- and, shockingly to fans who have come to expect nothing but heroics from their first baseman, finished fourth, with 11 total home runs.

That left the door open for Fielder and Cruz, neither of whom was really challenged on the road to the final. They each hit a Derby-high 11 homers in the first round, and comfortably beat out Pujols and St. Louis native Ryan Howard of the Phillies, who finished third overall with a cumulative 15 homers, in the second. Fielder and Cruz also consistently hit the longest home runs of the night, with Fielder topping the field with a 503-foot drive.

In the end, though, it was Fielder, the Brewer who was making his second Derby appearance after being eliminated in the first round in 2007, who took the crown, hitting six dingers in the final to Cruz's five. Earlier in the day, he had explained his hitting style: "Some guys think a lot when they're up at the plate," he said. "I just see it and hit it."

That strategy was working as well for Fielder tonight as it usually does, and helped him to hold off Cruz, the Texas rightfielder who was easily the Derby's most inexperienced participant, in the final. Cruz displayed the raw power that has made him a breakout star for the Rangers in his first full season, at the relatively advanced age of 28.

In the first round, Brandon Inge, the 32-year-old Tiger who had said that he was even more excited to compete in the Derby than to play in his first All-Star Game tomorrow night, became the Derby's first participant since Jason Bay in 2005 to fail to hit a ball over the fence. Also bowing out in the first round was slumping Padres slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who mustered two home runs, as well as Rays first baseman Carlos Pena and Twins catcher Joe Mauer, both of whom hit five but lost out to Pujols in the swing-off.

Even though this Derby was won by a Prince, there was little doubt afterwards about who it is that remains St. Louis' king. "This is Albert's stadium," Fielder said. "I was just happy to put on a show."