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Dominican duo packs Derby punch

Dominican duo packs Derby punch

ANAHEIM -- It was Dominican Republic night at the Home Run Derby. In fact, it was a dominant Dominican night.

First and second place in the State Farm Home Run Derby were both taken by Dominicans, close friends covering two baseball generations -- veteran slugger David Ortiz, 34, and young star Hanley Ramirez, 26.

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Ortiz mentored Ramirez as the shortstop was coming up with the Boston Red Sox organization. Ramirez was subsequently traded to the Florida Marlins in a deal that brought Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell to Boston. Ortiz and his protege were separated, but there was no need for regret: "Really good for him, really good for us," was the way Ortiz described the effects of the trade.

Monday night at Angel Stadium, Ortiz and Ramirez tied for the lead after two rounds of the Derby with 21 home runs each, handily leading a field with six other hitters. Ortiz prevailed in the finals, hitting 11 home runs to Ramirez's five.

This was a power-hitting exhibition, but it was also a part of the resurgence of Big Papi. After the Boston designated hitter started very slowly for the second straight season, he was written off in some quarters.

Ortiz objected Monday night to people who thought hitting could be turned on, as if it was part of "a Nintendo game."

"It ain't that easy," Ortiz said. "Not everything is roses and flowers. You've got to deal with the downs so you can get up. When I go through the downs it just makes me stronger."

Ortiz was in his fourth Derby, so his performance was not a surprise. He has been one of the game's top power hitters for years -- slow start to the season or not. Ramirez is known more as a remarkable all-around talent, still developing, but his power potential was fully in view Monday night at Angel Stadium.

And Ortiz was back to his big brother role with Ramirez. In the final round, even as Ramirez was trying to catch Ortiz, Big Papi offered Ramirez a smile, encouraging words, a hug and a helping hand with a towel.

In another display of Dominican solidarity, Ortiz dedicated the large Derby trophy to the family of Jose Lima, a former Major League pitcher from the Dominican who died of a heart attack in May at age 37.

The performances of Ortiz and Ramirez helped to return some luster to this event after some clubs urged their leading sluggers not to participate in the Derby. As a result, some of the most feared power hitters in the game were nowhere near the batter's box, but lounging in foul territory.

For instance, the greatest show of power in the history of this event came in '08, generated by Josh Hamilton of the Rangers. Hamilton crushed a record 28 home runs in a single round of the Derby, astounding and thrilling a Yankee Stadium crowd.

But Hamilton, starting in center for the '10 AL All-Stars, passed on the Derby this year. "It's because we're in the middle of things," Hamilton said Monday.

That means that the Rangers are leading the AL West. Hamilton figures that he might pull a back muscle in the Derby. Maybe his swing would get out of sync, going from a slight uppercut, to a too-large uppercut: "I call it my softball swing," Hamilton said.

If the Rangers were not contending, Hamilton would be much more likely to participate. Everything else equal, this would be fun for him.

"I really like to hit home runs, basically," he said. "But hey, I've grown so much, man, I've toned myself down. I mean, I might hit one, maybe two balls out in batting practice. I'm just hitting line drives."

On the notion of getting a swing badly messed up because of participation in the Derby, what emerged as collective wisdom was that players with line-drive strokes risked more, because they would have to alter their basic swings to make big showings in the Derby. But the players with the big swings, and the more pronounced uppercuts, wouldn't have to make any basic changes.

Describing the '10 Derby contestants, Ortiz said Monday to considerable laughter: "Well, in this group right here, I tell you right now, I don't think nobody is going to suffer any bad habits, because everybody is swinging for the streets right here.

"That's why when you go to the Derby, if you have an uppercut swing that allows you to hit homers in the Derby, I don't think you will suffer any bad habits."

The Derby, far from developing bad habits, turned out to be an advertisement for power hitters from the Dominican Republic. Given that nation's considerable contributions to North American baseball, that result was both fair and fitting.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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