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Derby shutout doesn't dim Inge's spirits

Inge not fazed by Derby shutout

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ST. LOUIS -- Believe it or not, Brandon Inge was in a home run derby before. He went 0-fer on his first nine swings at a Double-A Southern League contest in 2000, he said, before finally hitting one out on his last try.

"Let me tell you about the pressure on that last pitch," Inge told reporters Monday afternoon. "I think I hit the farthest ball that was hit in that thing. I finally got one."

On Monday night, he found himself in the same position for the State Farm Home Run Derby. The crowd at Busch Stadium worried about him being shut out, and fans started pulling for him. His 4-year-old son, Tyler, had started worrying about three outs earlier.

After about six outs, teammate Curtis Granderson recalled, a concerned Tyler turned to him and said, "Daddy's not hitting any home runs!"

With one more chance to clear the fences, Inge again hit his best ball of the evening, but it veered foul of the left-field pole.

As he left the batter's box, though, he still had a smile on his face. No one had gone homerless in the event since then-Pirate Jason Bay in 2005. But to hear Inge afterward, he sounded like he had won. The way he approached it, he really couldn't lose.

"Some guys I talked to about it said they couldn't have fun because it was too stressful," Inge said afterward. "I loved it. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I really would. I'd ask them to do it again. ...

"I told you I was going to have fun no matter what. You're not going to bring me down."

And after a brief moment to cool off, he sat down on the grass in front of the American League dugout with sons Tyler and Chase and did what he loved to do as a kid. He watched the rest of the Derby.

"This is about as big screen a TV as you can get," Inge said. "I was excited. I was sitting there, my kids with me. It was really a good moment. I mean, obviously, it would've been a little better if I'd hit home runs."

Inge, elected by fans to the American League All-Star team in the Final Vote and promptly invited into the Derby, hit his first ball to the gap in left-center field, then another to right field early before popping out to center as teammates Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson and Granderson watched. His line drives to left off Tigers bullpen catcher Scott Pickens didn't have enough to get into the seats.

Thus, barely 24 hours after Inge homered twice against the Indians in the Tigers' first-half finale at Comerica Park to head into the break with 21 homers, he went homerless.

If it wasn't clear going in that Inge wasn't a favored contender, it became so by the start of the news conference Monday afternoon. As one slugger after another settled into the seats -- Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Nelson Cruz, Adrian Gonzalez and former Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena -- Inge was the smallest of the bunch. He's listed in the Tigers media guide at 5-foot-11 and 188 pounds.

He compared it to David against Goliath. In this case, David couldn't land a shot. It probably didn't help that Cruz and Fielder, the two eventual finalists, batted just ahead of Inge in the first round and hit 11 each.

"I knew it was going to be like that all night," Inge said. "Come on, I'm the smallest guy probably ever out here. I knew they were going to be hitting balls all over the place.

"My [target] number was actually 15, I was thinking. And I almost got that."

He at least reached his goal of having fun, but that was never really in question. He was zoned in as he stood in the box, waiting for that one pitch that would actually get him on a roll.

"The very last ball, it was foul," he said, "but that's the one where I finally felt it. Good thing it was the stinking 10th out."

He was so pumped, in fact, that never really noticed they were playing music over the sound system until Pickens mentioned it to him.

"I got back to the side and I was listening," Inge said, "and I'm like, 'They've been playing music?' I didn't hear any music when I was hitting. Didn't hear a word. All I heard was, 'Two outs ... three outs ... four outs ... five outs.'"

Inge had so much fun that others got into the act. As he talked with reporters, still gushing over the experience, Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett chimed in with a joke.

"Tell them you don't know how you didn't get in the second round with those numbers," Beckett said, smiling as he shouted across the clubhouse.

Inge laughed, then fired back.

"Hey," he said, "I told them I'm saving it for you."

Jason Beck 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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