CLOSE

Now Commenting On:

Unsung hurlers serve up Derby homers

Unsung hurlers serve up Derby homers

DETROIT -- Here's to you, Mr. CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby batting-practice pitchers. You're the real men of genius in this yearly celebration of the long ball.

This was proven Monday night in the 2005 renewal of the nation's biggest crushing contest, when the hurlers very quietly became the story once again.

Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu redefined the Derby, jacking a record 24 homers in the first round, six in the second, and 11 in the final to beat hometown hero Ivan Rodriguez of the Detroit Tigers and take home the title.

But Abreu was quick to note that he wouldn't have had a chance without the superb work of Ramon Henderson, the Phillies' bullpen coach who laid fat 60 mph grapefruits right down the middle and painted the inside corner -- Abreu's happy zone -- throw after throw.

Usually, the Derby pitchers serve up all the taters and get none of the ketchup, but that might be changing.

"Ramon is big right now," Abreu said. "He's gonna get huge. I've been with him since 1998 and he's one of the good guys."

He's also one of the hard-working guys.

As tired as Abreu seemed from launching ball after ball into the Motor City night, Henderson looked even more gassed. He most certainly was not on a pitch count.

Abreu's record-setting homer came on Henderson's 62nd pitch in a 68-pitch first round. By the time Abreu was gingerly hoisting the trophy, Henderson's right elbow was on ice from an outing that lasted 155 pitches.

And that didn't even include the heavy lifting the pair did in the cage between sessions. Henderson was pretty sure he chucked well over 200 baseballs Monday night.

"I didn't care how many pitches I threw," Henderson said. "I know I'm going to be sore tomorrow, but Bobby was in a groove."

Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins sat through every pitch of his teammate's amazing performance and said he had an idea of how sore Henderson was.

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

"He's going on the DL," Rollins said. "He had three starts in one night."

And he wasn't the only unsung pitcher of the evening.

Rodriguez might have pulled off the upset of the millennium by even being in the final round in the first place. He's averaged 18 homers a year for the last three seasons.

But Pudge rode the good vibes of Motown and used his new-look lean-and-mean physique to stay fit through the rigors of three rounds of ripping. And he had a golden arm in his corner, too.

Mick Kelleher didn't gain fame as a 1970s journeyman infielder, although he did go 0-for-1 for the Cubs in a 1979 game that had a final score of 23-22 (Bake McBride was 3-for-8 with an RBI).

He gained plenty of respect Monday, though.

Kelleher, whose nickname is "Killer," killed in this Derby, giving Pudge the power to stick around until the wee hours of the contest. Even though the 5-foot-9, 176-pound Seattle native didn't hit one long ball in 1,081 at-bats over a 622-game career, Killer had no problem serving them up.

"I don't know how I did it," Rodriguez said. "The big key was Killer. Killer threw great BP. He just put it right where I wanted. He did a great job. A big part of what I did tonight was Killer."

Ever the scrappy team player, Kelleher deflected the praise back to Pudge.

"That's very, very good," Kelleher said. "Gosh, with the guys in that home-run hitting contest, let's face it, Pudge really performed. [David] Ortiz? Andruw Jones? These guys are power hitters. [Pudge] hasn't hit for power this year.

"That's not the way he really is. He's small and he's strong and he's got a quick bat, and that's the key to his offense."

And the key to the Derby was Abreu's monumental first round, which still had people astonished hours later.

Including Henderson, the man who stuck with him through thick and, well, mostly thicker.

"We had a plan," Henderson said. "He wanted the ball down the middle and up, and we did it. For the last eight years, I've been throwing batting practice to Bobby.

"But 24 homers, man. Wow. That's amazing."

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

{}
{}