(Jeff Chiu/AP Photo)
SAN FRANCISCO — It was State Farm Home Run Derby night at AT&T Park on Monday and Vladimir Guerrero was the finest of Major League Baseball’s slugging stars.
The Angels right fielder out-dueled Alex Rios of the Blue Jays, who faded in the final round.
After Rios hit two long balls, Guerrero needed 10 swings to better him, launching another high drive into the left-field bleachers he called home all evening. Although the final round score of 3-2 decided the title, Rios finished the three rounds with 19 and Guerrero with 17, down from the 23 Ryan Howard needed to win a year ago and way off the record total of 41 Bobby Abreu launched in 2005.
Bob DuPuy, MLB’s president and chief operating officer, presented the trophy on the field to Guerrero afterward. Guerrero last competed in the Derby in 2000, exiting after the first round with two home runs.
Rios evidently left it all out there in the batter’s box after a second-round show, during which he hit 12 bombs. Guerrero needed eight to tie Colorado’s Matt Holliday at 13 and did him one better by adding nine in the second round for a two-round total of 14 to face Rios in the finals. Holliday, the latest entry in the competition just Monday morning, blasted eight homers, but to no avail. Albert Pujols of the Cardinals finished with a flurry, but his nine for a two-round total of 13 was also not good enough. The totals of the first two rounds decided which two players qualified for the finals.
Defending champ Howard of the Phillies missed the cut with just three homers in the first round.
The lefty swingers had a decided disadvantage and were all eliminated early. They took aim at McCovey Cove above a 24-foot red brick wall and that distant 421-foot right-center field power alley. The right-handers had that more accommodating 382-foot alley in left-center and an eight-foot high fence running from the left-field foul pole to shoot at across to right-center.
There were no “Splash Hits” aside from a loud first-round foul ball by Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder, although Guerrero hit one into the parking lot beyond the left-field bleachers in the second round. He also hit another shot 503 foot during that display, the longest of the event.
Aside from Howard, Justin Morneau of the Twins, Fielder (three homers) and Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers (two homers) were all eliminated in the first round. Morneau, who tied with Pujols for the final spot at the end of the first round, was beaten in a five swing playoff, 2-1.
A total of $254,000 was earned for charity on the evening, $85,000 alone by Rios, who smacked out five Gold Balls before recording his last out of the second round.
The Gold Ball came into play after the ninth out was recorded in any at-bat taken by each hitter. For every home run hit before the 10th and final out, MLB and State Farm have agreed to donate $17,000 to charity. That figure represents the 17,000 State Farm agents working across the U.S. and Canada. Proceeds from the Gold Ball contributions continue to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, MLB’s official charity.