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Hamilton brightest star on special night

Hamilton shines on special night

NEW YORK -- Seriously, what did you expect from someone called The Natural who swings a black bat inscribed The Dream?

Josh Hamilton did not disappoint in the 2008 State Farm Home Run Derby.

He didn't win the event, but after he was finished with an imposing Round 1 in which he virtually lapped the field, Justin Morneau's eventual victory was already being called a massive upset.

As Hamilton quickly and dramatically aired out all the suspense from the early competition in Yankee Stadium on Monday night, only one question lingered:

When does he launch a baseball off a light tower and scatter a section of fans with glass?

That didn't happen, but virtually everything else imaginable, or even not, did.

Hamilton's 28 opening-round homers shattered the record of 24 by Bobby Abreu. But after electing for an abridged Round 2, he couldn't regain the feeling and opened the door for Morneau's triumph.

Despite stopping at four outs in Round 2, Hamilton racked up a total of 32 homers (on 14 outs) in the first two rounds; Morneau's 17 (on the full complement of 20 outs) was runner-up.

But with the slate wiped clean for the finals, Morneau led off with five homers and Hamilton and his 71-year-old pitcher dead-ended at 3.

Yet, the impression of Hamilton's majestic Round 1 display won't soon fade.

Even Morneau admitted, "We were all in awe. You want to see that story end in a good way."

"That story," of course, extended far beyond a diamond in The Bronx. But in a sense, by "losing" after such a dominant start, Hamilton merely emphasized anew the quality that allowed him to sink to the personal depths of substance abuse before rising back to the top of the baseball mountain -- he is human.

"I said after the first round, 'If I don't hit another, I'm satisfied,'" Hamilton said. "Just for being able to generate the crowd like that, and looking up in the stands and seeing my family there."


"That was unbelievable. I'm just glad to have been a part of it."
-- Brewers All-Star Ryan Braun

With a new Yankee Stadium rising across the street, this one will be razed after the season. Hamilton just gave the demolition a start by blasting home runs off a pitcher for whom he made room in his fantasy.

Clay Counsil, the gentleman batting-practice pitcher from North Carolina, left the field beaming as brightly as had Hamilton.

"It was a thrill, sure," said Counsil. "Nothing like this ever happened to me in North Carolina."

Confirming that his only prior visit to Yankee Stadium had been on Oct. 8, 1956, for Don Larsen's World Series perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers, Counsil said, "Whenever I come here, something special happens."

"I'm really proud of Josh," added Counsil, who made plenty of new friends among the AL All-Stars.

Hamilton virtually lapped the field in the first round, in which Lance Berkman and Morneau had tied for second with eight homers each. The other seven participants totaled 43 home runs.

Along with Abreu's record, Hamilton appeared to shred the confidence of his vanquished foes, some of whom departed the premises shaking their heads in awe.

"That was unfair," Dan Uggla said, unsolicited, on his way out of the National League clubhouse between Round 2 and the Finals.

Following him in the same stunned state, Ryan Braun said, "That was unbelievable. I'm just glad to have been a part of it."

Before he and Counsil agreed to stop and save their energies, Hamilton added four Round 2 homers for the two-round total of 32, which also broke Abreu's record of 30 in 2005.

However, he wasn't able to return to the zone.

"I was in here [before the Finals] and David Ortiz came by saying, 'Don't sit. Got to go out there and keep the blood moving.' You just don't realize how tired you are," Hamilton said. "You feel like you can still muscle out the ball, but it just doesn't go."

He looked over his left shoulder, where Counsil was preparing to get out of his long johns and back into his civvies.

"It was Clay's fault," Hamilton said loudly, making sure he was heard a few lockers down. "He stopped throwing the ball in the same spot."

Tom Singer 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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