Comerica brought to its knees by Abreu
Bobby Abreu turned Comerica Park into his own personal paradise in winning the Home Run Derby.
DETROIT -- And now, following a truly inexplicable Home Run Derby, here's a sentence you have never read before:
Comerica Park: What a freakin' bandbox.
OK, everybody who predicted that Detroit's favorite canyonesque ballpark would be the scene of the two greatest rounds of rocket-launching in the history of the Home Run Derby, step forward and claim your free car.
Uh, wait a second. Not so fast. We're going to need to see a notarized note from your mother. And your lawyer.
Because there's one thing we know for sure:
Nobody predicted this.
Not a 24-homer first round from a mere one human being (ultimate winner Bobby Abreu of the Phillies).
Not a 17-homer first round, many minutes later, from a guy who didn't even make it to the finals (David Ortiz).
Not 107 total home runs, in a ballpark with the same approximate dimensions as South Dakota.
Not 41 total home runs in three rounds by the guy who won it. "Forty-one" laughed Carlos Lee's designated Derby pitcher, Brewers coach Rich Donnelly. "I was pretty sure that five was gonna win it."
But some funny, funny things happened Monday night at Comerica Park. Things that long-time Comerica observers had never, ever seen in their lives ... and no doubt ever will again.
"I saw some balls hit here tonight I've never seen hit," said Pudge Rodriguez, the hometown hero who came into the Derby with a whopping six homers this year -- and charged right into the finals on a wave of hometown passion. "I've never seen anybody hit a ball in the upper deck in right field. But Abreu hit about five of them."
Before this Derby, the longest home run in the history of the stadium was a 457-footer by the immortal Eric Munson. In an outrageous first round, Abreu smoked one that slightly beat that one -- like by 60 feet.
Abreu is a man who has never hit more than 31 home runs in one season. So it's safe to say he wasn't exactly a lock to go out and hit 41 in one night.
But from the first swing he took -- a swing that resulted in a 434-foot commuter flight halfway up the lower deck in right -- he just had a crazy look in his eye. A Bonds-ian kind of look. A Ruth-ian kind of look. A this-Derby's-history kind of look.
"Usually in BP, Bobby hits a couple of line drives, just to get a feel," said his Phillies teammate, Jimmy Rollins. "But when he hit that first one, I said, 'Uh-oh.'"
Good call. Because that first one kicked off the greatest round in Derby history -- 24 home runs. The old record was 15, by Miguel Tejada last year in Houston. To put that in perspective, had Mark McGwire broken Roger Maris' record by the same percentage seven years ago, he would have hit 97 homers.
But none of those boppers could be with us Monday night. In fact, none of the top 30 active home run hitters took part in this extravaganza. So Abreu apparently took it upon himself to salvage this Derby singlehandedly.
Of his first 14 swings, 10 left the park. One hit the facing of the upper deck. Another landed in the Pepsi Porch by the upper-deck foul pole. The last one in that group almost came down in somebody's rib platter at the Montgomery Inn, across the concourse in the right field upper deck. That one was estimated at 517 feet.
Who knew then that Abreu would have 14 more bombs in him, just in that round' He wound up staying up there for close to half an hour. All by himself. With just a couple breaks for Venezuelan countrymen Melvin Mora, Cesar Izturis and Miguel Cabrera to race to the plate and wrap him in a flag.
"Abreu's first at-bat," Donnelly joked, "lasted longer than some of our pitchers do."
"I was feeling so good, I can't really believe what I was doing in the first round," Abreu said. "I was, like, you know, get a good rhythm. I was so excited about it, I just wanted to hit some more."
That eruption launched the most prolific first round in any Derby ever -- 70 homers. Who knew? Ortiz mashed 17 -- which would have been a record if Abreu hadn't already broken it. Pudge slashed seven. Lee cranked 11 -- including a ball that actually hit the flag pole, way out in deep left-center.
"I think we knocked two states off it," Donnelly quipped.
|“||I was feeling so good, I can't really believe what I was doing in the first round. I was, like, you know, get a good rhythm. I was so excited about it, I just wanted to hit some more. ”|
|— Bobby Abreu|
"I hit 11 in the first round, and that's a big number," Lee said. "And that guy [Abreu] hit 13 more than me. Fifteen used to be the record, and I got 11, so I thought that was pretty good. But everybody said, 'Yeah, but he got 24.' So I guess it wasn't that good."
Beyond all the home run bashing itself, this Derby was a spectacle for other reasons, too. Everywhere you turned, flags were waving, anthems were blaring and patriotism filled the air.
OK, so maybe it was slightly contrived patriotism. But whatever.
For the first time, in a shameless attempt to promote next spring's World Baseball Classic, the Derby contestants were organized by country instead of league.
So Jason Bay represented all of Canada -- and got shut out, in a spectacular display of goaltending.
"I'm probably not the ideal Home Run Derby guy," Bay confessed.
Also wiped out in the first round were the United States (with Mark Teixeira hitting just two), Korea (Hee-Seop Choi lofting only five) and everyone's favorite home run haven, the Netherlands (represented by -- who else? -- noted Dutchman Andruw Jones, who also hit five).
Because Jones' actual country, Curacao, is part of the Netherland Antilles, he found himself a Dutchman for a day. And so, when asked who he was swinging for -- Curacao or the Netherlands -- he replied, diplomatically: "I have to say both."
However, when we then asked who he thought was bigger in Amsterdam -- him or Bert Blyleven (actually born in Holland) -- Jones knew his place.
"Oh," he replied. "I'd have to say him."
Good choice. By the way, we can think of a few home run hitters who are bigger in America than Teixeira, too (for now, anyhow). But either they weren't in attendance, or they didn't need to have the weight of all 50 states on their shoulders.
"Too much pressure representing America," said Mike Piazza. "But I might agree to represent Italy. At least expectations wouldn't be as high."
When we suggested that, if Jones could be the pride of Holland, Piazza's Italian slot might not be that tough to work out, he said: "I like that. Maybe [Craig] Biggio and I can get our passports together."
At that point, we couldn't help but continue along this line. So we asked Piazza if he thought folks might go be wild in the streets of Amsterdam on Monday if Jones were to win this thing.
"Sure," Piazza laughed. "They do every night, anyway."
So they partied on, we're sure. But Jones went down early. And in case they missed it over there, it was about 4 a.m. local time when he took those Dutch dreams down the tubes. So the Derby raged on. And finally, more than three hours after it began, it came down to Abreu against Pudge.
When Abreu made four outs on his first five swings, it seemed like a set-up for the hometown slammer. But then Abreu lined a 430-foot shot into the seats in right, took off on another crazy run of 11 homers in 14 swings and wrapped this baby up.
Good thing his personal pitcher, Phillies coach Ramon Henderson, wasn't on a pitch count. Henderson said afterward he'd thrown 155 pitches -- not counting two BP sessions in the indoor batting cage between rounds.
"I know tomorrow I'll be sore," Henderson said. "But I don't care how many pitches I threw. Bobby was in a groove, and I knew he had a chance to win it."
"Ramon might be going on the DL," Rollins laughed. "That's a lot of pitches."
Those 41 Abreu homers put a hurting on Henderson's career gopherball ratio, too. But at least, Donnelly suggested, "they were all solos -- so they didn't hurt his ERA."
Abreu confessed later that he'd never won a Home Run Derby in his life. Any time. Any place. Any league. Any country. But he sure picked a good time to start.
"This is a beautiful night," he said. "I mean, this is something amazing that came to me. I don't know if I can sleep tonight."
And not just because he was excited, either. From the look of Cabrera circling the infield waving the flag to the sound of Abreu's fan club singing the Venezuelan anthem from the seats at midnight, there appeared to be a good chance he might be taking calls from Caracas until dawn.
Asked before the Derby what would happen in Venezuela if Abreu lost this thing, Rollins said that was the least of his buddy's worries.
"Are you kidding? That's the president down there, Bobby Abreu," Rollins said. "They don't even know who Chavez is."
So afterward, we wondered what might happen now. If this guy was going to be the president if he lost, what would he ascend to now that he's won this?
"Oh, he might be the king now," Rollins said. "The king of Venezuela."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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