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Morneau steals show to rule Derby

Morneau steals show to rule Derby

NEW YORK -- Last year, Twins first baseman Justin Morneau participated in the State Farm Home Run Derby in San Francisco and was eliminated in the first round after hitting just four home runs.

This time, Morneau had a better showing in this year's event at Yankee Stadium on Monday night and won the trophy in a stunning upset. He became the first member of the Twins, and first Canadian, to win the Home Run Derby.

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"I think it's good for kids growing up in Canada to see there's something we do other than play hockey, and we can do it at this level." Morneau said.

With Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra throwing to him, Morneau hit sixth in the order and advanced into the final round, where he defeated Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, 5-3. Morneau hit a total of 22 home runs during the event.

Morneau may have won the trophy, but he realizes the story was Hamilton, who won the 56,716 fans over with his Mickey Mantle-type power. In the first round alone, Hamilton hit a record-setting 28 home runs and hit three homers measured at more than 500 feet apiece.

"[Hamilton is] the story of this year," Morneau said. "I mean, the year he's having, for him to come in and put on a show like that, I mean, it was something impressive. We were over there in awe of what he was doing.

"I was kind of cheering for him because, you know, the whole crowd's behind him, everybody's cheering him on. You want to see that story end in a good way, but, you know, at the same time, it's something I always dreamed of. I played home run derby in my backyard all the time. ... It was something that I always wanted to do. To be able to do it here, be a part of that performance Josh put on, it was something special."

Morneau was more relaxed this year because Yankee Stadium has that right-field porch. AT&T Park in San Francisco, on the other hand, has the high wall in right field. Morneau acknowledged that he tried to over swing in San Francisco.


"I think it's good for kids growing up in Canada to see there's something we do other than play hockey, and we can do it at this level."
-- Justin Morneau

"You know, everyone wanted to see the ball go in the water in San Francisco -- you know, all that kind of stuff," Morneau said. "So you start trying to do that, and you get away from your swing. Here, I was trying not to over swing. But in the end, I was swinging as hard as I could anyway."

In the first round, Morneau clubbed eight home runs, which tied Astros first baseman Lance Berkman for second place. Hamilton, the last player in the order, would take the lead with the 28 home runs.

At first, Vavra had a tough time throwing strikes in the first round. At one point, Vavra threw five straight balls and started to hear it from the fans.

"The plan was to get it up and in," Vavra recalled. "It was anywhere but that. It was definitely up and I felt the crowd, and I said, 'Well, I better locate this ball. After five straight balls, I better get one in there.'"

Suddenly Morneau was swinging at some bad pitches, but Vavra started to throw at the middle of the plate and Morneau got hot.

In the second round, Morneau hit another nine home runs to go to the finals.

In the last round, with the slate clean, Morneau outslugged the heavily favored Hamilton to win the State Farm Home Run Derby trophy. Morneau believes the reason for his victory was because Hamilton got tired from swinging at too many pitches in the first round.

"You know, he hit so many in a row," Morneau said. "I mean, that's hard to do in itself. Then to have to get back out there and swing a couple more times, you know, I mean, he was the one that put on the show tonight. I think everyone will remember Josh Hamilton's 28 home runs more than they'll remember I won the thing. I'm just glad I was a part of the whole thing."

Bill Ladson 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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