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Papi pops, doesn't stop until hitting Derby top

Papi pops, doesn't stop until hitting top

ANAHEIM -- In a competition that was highlighted by all the first-time competitors, the seasoned veteran stole the show.

It took David Ortiz four tries to advance to the final round of the State Farm Home Run Derby. But once he finally did, the Boston slugger made sure not to disappoint.

Capping his 32-homer night with 11 in the final round, Ortiz outslugged Florida shortstop Hanley Ramirez at Angel Stadium on Monday to claim the competition's crown.

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"[I'm] too old doing this," Ortiz joked afterward. "It was good that they put me towards the end, because I get tired pretty easy when I hit and shut it down for a while."

Whatever his strategy may have been -- and Ortiz insisted that he really didn't have one -- the six-time All-Star became the first Red Sox player to earn the distinction of Derby champion.

Afterward, Ortiz downplayed the aid his previous Derby experience played in his success, though the fact that he entered the night with as many Derby tries as the rest of the field combined certainly couldn't have hurt. Not to mention that his 335 career home runs and seven long balls at Angel Stadium were both tops in the group.

Whether purposefully or not, Ortiz seemed to pace himself well throughout the competition. His eight first-round blasts were good enough to push Ortiz into the semifinal round. It was in those latter two rounds, though, that Ortiz's homers started traveling with both more authority and frequency.

"I think that whoever puts the best swing [on it], wins it," Ortiz said at a postgame press conference, flanked by his son, D'Angelo. "I have seen a lot of guys do it for the first time, and they walk away with that right there. So I think whoever plays the best in the night is the one getting it done.

Ortiz's end-of-the-night total of 32 also pushed him into second place all-time with 68 career Derby homers. Jason Giambi, too, hit 68, while Ken Griffey Jr., an eight-time participant, tops the list with 74.

Still, as rewarding as the accolades may have been -- and with the scrutiny Ortiz has been under all year, be sure they meant something -- Ortiz also made it a point to use his Derby win to honor close friend and former big league pitcher Jose Lima, who passed away in late May.

"When I got picked up to be in the All Star Game, I [felt] like I wanted to do something to, you know, make sure he feels more than usual," Ortiz said. "I want to dedicate this trophy and this Home Run Derby tournament to him and his family, because I know that they are going to be hurting for a long time."

The Ortiz-Ramirez finals matchup alone provided plenty of intrigue. Not only are the two close friends, but each still speaks fondly of the time they shared in the Red Sox's organization. Ramirez was dealt from Boston to Florida in a seven-play swap after the 2005 season.

Unable to enjoy the chance to play together in the big leagues, the pair certainly embraced the opportunity to share this limelight. During Ramirez's final at-bat on Monday, Ortiz even offered the 26-year-old shortstop some advice as he brought him a drink and wiped off his sweat with a towel.

"I told him, 'Hey, take it easy, don't get too tired, take your time, because that's what the Home Run Derby is all about,'" Ortiz said. "I'm not really worried about winning or losing. I'm worried about the fans having a good show, and I think he did a [heck] of a job."

"He's one of the best [people] I've ever met in my life," Ramirez said. "I know he's going to come back and do what he gets paid to do -- hit bombs."

Ramirez's final round production dropped sharply, and it became evident that he wasn't going to have enough left in the tank to seriously challenge Ortiz for the crown. After matching Ortiz's total of 21 blasts through the first two rounds, Ramirez had just five in the final round.

Even so, the fact that Ramirez advanced to the finals was plenty notable. Not only did he enter the competition with the fewest first-half homers (13) of any of the eight participants, but Ramirez was also just the second shortstop to compete in the Derby since 2002.

Though Ortiz and Ramirez enjoyed the spotlight late, it was actually Milwaukee's Corey Hart that garnered all the attention early.

Employing Triple-A hitting coach Sandy Guerrero -- who threw to his teammate, last year's Derby champ, Prince Fielder -- Hart launched 13 homers in the first round, four more than the next highest competitor.

Hart came to the plate in the second round knowing he needed eight more to match the totals posted by Ramirez and Ortiz. However, the Brewers outfielder fell flat, unable to lift a single ball over the outfield fence.

"I knew if I got up with [Ortiz], I wouldn't really have a chance," Hart said when it was all over. "I usually don't hit a lot of home runs, but I got into a rhythm early. In the second round, I couldn't find it."

Both Hart and Detroit's Miguel Cabrera bowed out in the second round. Cabrera, a second-time participant, finished with 12 long balls.

Three of the five first-timers -- Vernon Wells, Nick Swisher and Chris Young -- were unable to advance past Round 1. Joining them on the sidelines early was St. Louis outfielder Matt Holliday, who did find a nice groove at one point, but too late.

Down to his final out, Holliday launched four into the left-field seats to finish with a first-round total of five. Though it wasn't enough to move on, his 497-foot shot to left did stick as the furthest hit ball of the night.

Swisher finished with four home runs, while Wells and Young tallied two and one, respectively.

"After you go sit down after everything's done, you're like, 'I wish I could do it again,'" Young said. "I'd definitely do much better now."

"I didn't get blanked in the Derby," added Swisher. "I put up a respectable number, so that's good. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do this. I'd definitely do it again."

The Derby experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for eight local members of the Boys & Girls club, as well. Each was paired with each competitor as a part of State Farm's charitable initiative, and with Ortiz's win, 11-year-old Malik Campbell earned the Fullerton BGCA a $50,000 gift from State Farm.

In all, State Farm donated $573,000 to the BGCA before the night was over. A total of 12 gold balls -- which were thrown when a competitor was down to his final out -- left the ballpark, each of which was worth $17,000.

Jenifer Langosch 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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