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Pudge opens eyes, finishes second

Pudge opens eyes with second-place showing

DETROIT -- Ivan Rodriguez has insisted all along he isn't a power hitter. Still does, in fact. On Monday night, he was better than everybody but Bobby Abreu.

Pudge finished second in the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby, but his slugfest to the final round placed him first among his fans at Comerica Park. He put up neither the gaudy totals of Abreu nor the 500-foot plus shots of Abreu and David Ortiz, but he was by far the biggest surprise of the night.

"That was very, very good," said Tigers first base coach Mick Kelleher, who served as Rodriguez's pitcher at the last minute. "Gosh, with the guys in that home-run hitting contest, Pudge just really performed."

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The math shows how much he truly performed. The slimmer, faster Pudge's six home runs entering the Derby were the fewest of all the contestants. He topped that in both first and second rounds, though he stuck to the party line.

"I am not a power hitter," Rodriguez said, repeating his mantra for the past week. "I am a line-drive hitter."

One of the differences Monday was that he was a local favorite. Unlikely as his chances seemed -- even manager Alan Trammell called him a long shot -- he had the Detroit crowd working in his favor. In return, he gave the fans in the left-field grandstand something to really cheer about, belting seven home runs to reach the second round.

Pudge needed a few pitches from Kelleher to get acclimated. He took the first four pitches he saw and five of six before homering into the left-field bullpen. Under Comerica Park's old dimensions, it would've been a fly ball out. With the current setup, it was a start.

With his 13-year-old son Dereck cheering him on in front of the home dugout, Rodriguez seemed more comfortable after that first blast. After a couple of lineouts, he cleared the bullpen and reached the left-center-field stands with an estimated 421-foot blast. Another pitch taken, another homer into the stands in left, this one at 412. He took another pitch, then belted a 440-foot drive halfway up the seats. He topped that with a screaming liner down the left-field line, poking it inside the foul pole for a 442-foot shot.

By then, the pattern was set: Take a pitch, hit a homer. He hit a 432-foot drive into the front row of seats in left-center, then hit a Golden Home Run Ball 424 feet into the stands.

"It's tough, because everybody's watching you," Rodriguez said. "It's batting practice, and not the same thing as in the game. But [Kelleher] pitched great. He pitched me right where I wanted. I hit some good balls. I was having a good swing with a good pitcher."

Player & Total
Highlights
 
Bobby Abreu 41 56K | 350K Home Run Derby
Complete Coverage >
Ivan Rodriguez 20 56K | 350K
David Ortiz 20 56K | 350K
Carlos Lee 15 56K | 350K
Hee-Seop Choi 5 56K | 350K
Andruw Jones 5 56K | 350K
Mark Teixeira 2 56K | 350K
Jason Bay 0 56K | 350K

All of the first-round balls hit by the right-handed batter were pulled to left field. Trammell figured as much before the Derby, saying he hoped his All-Star catcher would only use the pull swing for a day before going back to his usual approach and spraying line drives into Comerica Park's vast outfield gaps.

By the second round, however, he was hitting them hard in plenty of places. He homered off the shrubbery in center field, a 453-foot shot. He hit a long drive off the brick wall behind the left-center-field stands, then hit the next pitch he saw over the wall and onto the concourses by the statues of Tigers greats -- estimated at 470 feet.

"They told me I hit some very long balls today," Rodriguez said, "but I didn't look because I was concentrating on what I was doing."

Another homer off the brick wall in left and a more mundane shot into the left-field stands powered him into the final with eight homers, and had the fans chanting his nickname.

Abreu's 11 homers in the last round, however, were too much for Rodriguez to match. He hit five before the power finally ran out.

"He put on a great show," Rodriguez said of Abreu. "He's a great hitter. To finish with more than 40 home runs in the Home Run Derby, I'm sure he's going to have a sore back tomorrow."

Once the season's second half begins here Thursday against the Royals, Rodriguez will probably be back to his line-drive swing. But the fans in Detroit won't soon forget his night as a slugger.

"I got big support from the crowd," Rodriguez said. "They stayed until the end. Nobody was leaving. It was nice that they stayed all the way."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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