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Howard powers way to Derby crown

Howard powers way to Derby crown

PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Howard, the left-handed-hitting powerhouse from the Philadelphia Phillies, had to come from behind in each of the three rounds to top David Wright of the New York Mets on Monday night at PNC Park to win the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby.

In a battle of second-year players, Ryan hit five homers in the finals after Wright led off with four, giving the Phillies the derby winner for the second consecutive year. Bobby Abreu set the single-round record when he opened with 24 homers on the way to a derby-winning 41 a year ago at Detroit's Comerica Park.

"[Abreu] just told me basically to pretend like nobody else was out there," Ryan said about a conversation in the days before the derby. "[He said] that it was just [the pitcher] and myself, and just to get locked in that way, just to take pitches and try not to tire yourself out too early."

The right-handed-hitting Wright rapped out 16 homers in this year's first round and slipped into the finals against Howard when he hit two more in the second round. Both players, who had a two-round total of 18, were competing in the Derby for the first time. Howard had the edge in the end, 23-22.

"I was unconscious in the beginning," Wright said. "Then we had the break, and I cooled off. I was brought back down to earth. I wish I would've had all my 30 outs in that first round [instead of 10 outs per round]. I might still be hitting."

Howard won $250,000 for James Sparks, a sweepstakes winner from Irvine, Ky., toward the purchase of a new home. And the eight participants combined to hit out 14 gold balls. At $21,000 each, Major League Baseball and Century 21 pledged to donate $294,000 to a pair of charities: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the official charity of MLB, and Easter Seals, the official charity of CENTURY 21. It was the identical total donated last year by both groups to their respective charities.

By hitting a sign with his last homer high above the right-field bleachers that reads "HIT IT HERE," Ryan won 500 flights from Southwest Airlines for one of the 38,702 ticket holders on Monday night at the Pittsburgh Pirates' home park.

Asked if he was trying to hit the sign, Ryan responded: "No, I didn't even know it hit the sign. But I heard that it hit the sign, and that's great that somebody got 500 flights."

Howard powered out 10 balls in the second round after hitting eight in the first round. He finished the first round with a run of four homers with one out to go to eliminate Jermaine Dye of the defending World Series champion Chicago White Sox. Dye finished with seven.

In the second round, Miguel Cabrera of the Florida Marlins hit six homers for a two-round total of 15. He was topped by Howard, who hit four in a row again, this time with two outs to go.

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, who hit 13 in the opening two rounds, was also eliminated in the second round.

Ortiz, who had a distinct advantage this year as a left-handed hitter aiming at the short porch in right field, hit 17 in the first round at Detroit and 10 in the first round here.

But like last year, Ortiz hit only three homers in the second round and was eliminated from contention in both events.

"Well, yeah, I'm happy," Ortiz said. "It's not all about winning, it's about the fans who get involved in this and they try to have fun so we try to put on a good show. This is fun to do. A lot of players walk away from doing it, but the guys that decided to do it know it's good for the game. Like I said, it's all about having fun."

For the first time this year, a rule change allowed each player to carry his total from the first round to the second. In the past, no matter how many homers a participant hit in the first round, he would have to start all over again in the second round.

For example, Abreu hit only six homers in the second round last year, but survived to go into the finals. Ivan Rodriguez won that round with eight, but was bested in the final round by Abreu, 11-5.

This year, the two-round total got both players to the finals where the slate was wiped clean.

Howard said he liked the new format.

"I liked it because I think it allows you to kind of format a strategy, if you will," he said. "And it also allows you to have one good round and one bad round and not necessarily be punished for that bad round."

Howard had three terrific, if not spectacular rounds on Monday night. And that, in the end, made all the difference.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. MLB.com reporter Rich Draper contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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