SAN FRANCISCO -- It was State Farm Home Run Derby night at AT&T Park on Monday and Vladimir Guerrero was the finest of Major League Baseball's slugging stars.
The Angels right fielder outdueled Alex Rios of the Blue Jays, who faded in the final round.
"Well, with the strength of God, I've been able to do this," said Guerrero a native of the Dominican Republic, who waved his country's flag after the victory. "It's very prideful to be able to do such a good job here at the All-Star Game, representing Latin ballplayers. It's important because any time you do anything well, you want to raise your flag."
Rios needed all 10 of his outs in the final round to hit only two homers. Guerrero took 10 swings and left three outs on the table to better him by one, launching another high drive into the left-field bleachers he called home all evening to win the event for the first time.
Although the final round score of 3-2 decided the title, Rios finished the three rounds with 19 and Guerrero with 17, down from the 23 Ryan Howard needed to win a year ago, and way off the record total of 41 Bobby Abreu launched in 2005.
"I think I changed my approach a little bit [in the final round] ," said Rios, who was the last of the four American Leaguers selected. "I was trying to swing too hard. Other than that, I had a great time. I didn't know I was going to have a chance to participate in the Home Run Derby. But it was a great experience and I'm so glad that I did it. It's something that's not going to go away ever."
Bob DuPuy, MLB's president and chief operating officer, presented the trophy on the field to Guerrero afterward -- two silver bats crossed on a silver pedestal. Guerrero last competed in the Derby in 2000, exiting after the first round with two home runs.
"When I was last in the Derby I swung at every pitch," Guerrero said. "I came in this time with a different philosophy. It's absolutely worth it now that I've won. This is only my second Derby, but it's absolutely worth it. I've had problems with my back, but my back is perfectly fine now."
Rios evidently left it all out there in the batter's box after hitting 12 bombs in a second-round show. Guerrero needed eight in that round to tie Colorado's Matt Holliday at 13 and did him one better by adding nine for a two-round total of 14 to face Rios in the finals. Holliday, the last entry in the competition on Monday morning and a replacement for Florida's injured Miguel Cabrera, blasted eight homers, but to no avail.
Albert Pujols of the Cardinals finished with a flurry, but his nine for a two-round total of 13 was also not good enough. The totals of the first two rounds decided which two players qualified for the finals.
Defending champ Howard of the Phillies missed the cut with just three homers in the first round.
The lefty swingers had a decided disadvantage and were all eliminated early. They took aim at McCovey Cove above a 24-foot red brick wall and that distant 421-foot right-center field power alley. The right-handers had that more accommodating 382-foot alley in left-center and an eight-foot high fence running from the left-field foul pole shooting across to right-center.
There were no "Splash Hits" aside from a loud first-round foul ball by Milwaukee's Prince Fielder, although Guerrero hit one into the parking lot beyond the left-field bleachers in the second round. He also hit another shot 503 feet during that display, the longest of the event.
During league play 58 balls have been hit into the Cove by Major League hitters, 34 of them by Giants slugger Barry Bonds, who has often said it's not an easy feat.
"You see Barry hit a lot and it's actually harder to do than people think," said Howard before the festivities.
"I've seen Barry do it a few times," added Justin Morneau of the Twins. "Not too many guys can hit it out there."
Bonds, the starting left fielder in Tuesday night's All-Star Game for the National League, declined to participate in the Derby.
Howard, Morneau and Fielder were the only lefty hitters among the eight in the competition. Aside from that trio, Magglio Ordonez of the Tigers was also eliminated in the first round. Morneau, who tied with Pujols for the final spot, was beaten in a five-swing playoff, 2-1.
A total of $254,000 was earned for charity on the evening, $85,000 alone by Rios, who smacked out five Gold Balls before recording his last out of the second round.
The Gold Ball came into play after the ninth out was recorded in any at-bat taken by each hitter. For every home run hit before the 10th and final out, MLB and State Farm combined to donate $17,000. That figure represents the 17,000 State Farm agents working across the U.S. and Canada. Proceeds from the Gold Ball contributions continue to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, MLB's official charity.
The Gold Ball platform was just an added plus to the competition, Rios said.
"I had a great time," he said. "It was a great experience. I'm still loving it."