ANAHEIM, Calif. - David Ortiz believes his power swing is all the way back. After a big finish in the Home Run Derby, Boston's beloved slugger has a trophy to prove it.
Big Papi won his first derby title Monday night, hitting 11 homers in the final round to beat Florida’s Hanley Ramirez at Angel Stadium.
Showing plenty of potency in the fierce swing that once made him one of the majors’ most feared hitters, the Red Sox star put a relentless series of drives into the elevated stands above the right-field wall.
With Yankees bench coach Tony Peña crossing rivalry lines to feed fastballs straight into his wheelhouse, Ortiz hit 21 homers in the first two rounds of his fourth derby before holding off Ramirez to emerge from a field missing most of baseball’s top power hitters.
“This is my fourth time, so I just kind of used the experience,” Ortiz said. “I wanted to come here and make sure the fans enjoy what we do.”
Ortiz triumphantly held up the trophy featuring two crossed bats. He dedicated his performance to former major league pitcher Jose Lima, a Dominican Republic native who passed away in May after paramedics found him in cardiac arrest at his Southern California home.
Ramirez, Ortiz’s fellow Dominican slugger and former Boston teammate, matched Papi’s 21 homers in the first two rounds, pulling most of his shots over the left-field wall. But Ortiz became just the second slugger to reach double digits in the final round, while Ramirez managed only five.
“It’s good for him,” Ramirez said. “He’s been through a tough time. I know he’s going to come back in the second half.”
Ortiz reached the derby semifinals in 2005 and 2006, but hadn’t been back in the field since.
His entire career was on the skids after he struggled in 2009 and again in April, but Boston’s longtime star is back on his game with 18 homers and 57 RBI this season, earning his sixth All-Star berth.
“I’ve been dealing with so many things the past few years,” Ortiz said. “Coming back here (to another All-Star Game), I want to thank the players for giving me the opportunity to be here. This is a job that we have, but it’s called a game. That’s what I try to do during the season – have fun with my teammates and make sure everything goes the right way.”
Milwaukee’s Corey Hart and Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera were eliminated in the second round, with Hart failing to connect after hitting 13 in the opening round and then waiting about 90 minutes for his second crack. Ortiz finished with 13 in the second round after getting off to a fast start.
Ortiz gave ample credit to Peña’s pitching after he coolly outslugged his younger competitors.
“Whenever we played the Yankees, I saw (Peña) throw batting practice,” Ortiz said. “As soon as I found out he was going to be here, I said to him, ‘Hey, Tony, can you pitch to me?’ And he said, ‘Fine. It’s not a problem. I’m going to throw to (Nick) Swisher, but I can throw to you, too.’ It’s the Home Run Derby, and we’re here for the fans to have fun. It’s not a Yankees and Boston kind of situation, so let’s do it.”
The derby field wasn’t exactly a murderers’ row, featuring five first-time competitors and no returning champions.
Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and defending champion Prince Fielder all sat out. So did major league homers leader Jose Bautista, NL co-leaders Adam Dunn and Joey Votto, and Texas’ Josh Hamilton, who hit 28 homers in a single round at Yankee Stadium two years ago.
Still, eight sluggers took aim at the artificial rock pile, moss and trees behind the center-field wall at Angel Stadium, the long-standing Orange County park that underwent a thorough renovation in recent years.
The Anaheim crowd booed Ortiz during pregame introductions, still remembering several years of postseason clashes between his Red Sox and the Los Angeles Angels. But Ortiz hadn’t homered at Angel Stadium since hitting a shot during the 2007 AL division series.
Ortiz hit eight homers in the opening round, which included plateside delivery of a towel and a refreshing drink from laughing Tampa Bay closer Rafael Soriano.
Ortiz, who has been known for goofing around during the derby silliness in recent years, gave a towel break during the final round to Ramirez, who he said is “like a son to me.”
Ramirez was traded to Florida when the Red Sox acquired ace Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell.
“Of course, I wish Hanley would be playing on our team, like he was supposed to be, but there are things we can’t control,” Ortiz said. “The move that the Red Sox made was good for both sides.”
Ortiz took control of the last round with consecutive homers on his first four swings. Ramirez couldn’t catch up, hitting three straight before ending it by making outs on six of his last seven swings.
Hart highlighted the first round with six homers on his first eight swings. He had 11 on his first 15 whacks against Sandy Guerrero, the Nashville Sounds’ hitting coach.
St. Louis’ Matt Holliday, the Yankees’ Swisher, Toronto’s Vernon Wells and Arizona’s Chris Young didn’t escape the first round.
DID YOU KNOW?
Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz was in the Seattle Mariners’ farm system from 1994-96.
Then known as David Arias, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by Seattle in 1992. He was traded to Minnesota in 1996 to complete the trade for third baseman Dave Hollins. He told the Twins he preferred to be known as David Ortiz, not David Arias.