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Hamilton sets record with 28 HRs in first round of Derby; Morneau wins it all

7/15/2008 - MLB

NEW YORK -- Without a hometown star to cheer for in the Home Run Derby, fans at Yankee Stadium adopted Josh Hamilton.

He certainly gave them an extraordinary show.

The Texas Rangers slugger hit a record 28 homers in the first round before getting beaten out by Minnesota's Justin Morneau in the finals Monday night.

Morneau topped a tired Hamilton 5-3 in the last round, giving him the derby title. But the night belonged to Hamilton, a first-time All-Star who put on a dazzling power display worthy of The House That Ruth Built.

"The whole stadium, the way people responded, higher and higher -- you can't beat it," he said. "Them chanting my name and getting louder, it makes you more focused."

Back from eight trips to rehab for drug and alcohol addiction that derailed his career, Hamilton broke Bobby Abreu's mark for one round. Abreu hit 24 home runs in the first round in 2005 at Detroit's Comerica Park.

Hamilton's incredible tale of redemption has made national news this season, and he retold a story Monday afternoon about a vivid dream he had two years ago -- he was being interviewed at Yankee Stadium after participating in the Home Run Derby.

"I can say it was a coincidence, but I don't believe in those," he said.

Mind you, his dream came while Hamilton was still banned from Major League Baseball, and before this year's All-Star Game was awarded to the venerable ballpark in its final season.

"Obviously, the dream, I didn't know how many I would hit," Hamilton said in a TV interview after his huge first-round performance. "I just feel blessed to have played here."

With the crowd of 53,716 chanting his name, undoubtedly warmed by his improbable journey to stardom, Hamilton connected on 13 consecutive cuts before falling short of the fences on his final two in the first round.

"I got chills," he said.

Hamilton was drafted No. 1 overall by Tampa Bay in 1999, with some veteran scouts calling him the best prospect they'd ever seen. He finally reached the majors last year with Cincinnati, then was traded in the offseason for All-Star pitcher Edinson Volquez in a deal that has paid off immensely for both teams.

With his smooth left-handed swing and jaw-dropping power, Hamilton seemed a natural choice to take advantage of Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch. But he cleared the deepest fences with ease, hitting three shots farther than 500 feet -- including his longest estimated at 518.

"Really? Holy cow," said Hamilton, who has 21 homers this season and leads the majors with 95 RBIs.

That was the third-longest drive in the 19-year history of the derby, behind Sammy Sosa's 524-foot homer in 2002 at Miller Park in Milwaukee and Frank Thomas' 519-footer in 1994 at old Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

Hamilton's first-round homers totaled 12,458 feet, an average of 445 each. He nearly had another one, but it was waved off because a fan reached over the fence to catch it.

"They should have juiced the ball up. I'd have hit the subway," Hamilton said.

His 28 homers in the first round were the second-highest total for an entire derby, behind Abreu's 41 for Philadelphia in 2005.

Signing autographs for players' small kids between swings, Hamilton took a few deep breaths and received high fives from his Texas teammates on the AL All-Star squad. Rangers designated hitter Milton Bradley even strolled to the plate to wipe off Hamilton's forehead with a towel.

"We were sitting there saying, 'How do you follow that?'" Morneau said. "I'm glad I didn't hit right after him, that's for sure."

Hamilton totaled 35 homers (on 59 swings) to Morneau's 22 -- and the Texas outfielder stopped after making only four outs in the second round because he was already assured a spot in the finals. Contestants get 10 outs in each round.

"I couldn't ask for anything else," Hamilton said. "You don't feel tired, but obviously you're a little tired."

When it was over, Morneau was left practically apologizing for beating Hamilton.

"I was lucky that we got reset," he said. "This was his show. He deserved to win it.

"It does seem kind of unfair that he didn't get to win the whole thing," Morneau added. "Anyone who was here won't forget that performance."

Nobody has ever hit a fair ball out of Yankee Stadium, but some of baseball's elite boppers took aim at Monument Park and the ballpark's vast upper deck Monday night.

One of Hamilton's 500-foot drives hit a wall behind the right-field bleachers, drawing a roar from the delirious crowd.

Hamilton's batting practice pitcher also was quite a story. He chose a 71-year-old volunteer coach who often threw BP to Hamilton when he was a teenager in North Carolina.

Milwaukee's Ryan Braun and Houston's Lance Berkman were knocked out in the semifinals. Eliminated in the first round were Philadelphia's Chase Utley, Cleveland's Grady Sizemore, Florida's Dan Uggla and Tampa Bay's Evan Longoria, the first rookie to participate since Nomar Garciaparra in 1997.