ST. LOUIS — Prince Fielder beat the hometown boppers on their own turf.
With Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard eliminated early, Fielder won baseball’s Home Run Derby on Monday night with a steady power display that included a jaw-dropping drive estimated at 503 feet.
The Milwaukee Brewers’ first baseman outslugged Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz 6-5 in the finals at Busch Stadium to take home a title that St. Louis fans surely hoped would go to one of their own.
“It’s what I expected. This is Albert’s stadium and Ryan is from here,” Fielder said. “I was just happy I was able to put on a show and I’m glad I won.”
Pujols, the Cardinals’ big first baseman, and Howard, who grew up in the Gateway City, were knocked out in the second round.
This year’s all-star festivities were supposed to belong to Pujols in his home ballpark. But Fielder snatched the spotlight in the annual warmup for Tuesday night’s Midsummer Classic.
With three outs remaining in the final round, Fielder smacked a drive onto the grassy hill in centre field to clinch the crown. He posed for a moment with his bat held high, then embraced Brewers teammate Ryan Braun near home plate.
Pujols, who leads the majors with 32 homers, needed a late rally just to avoid elimination in the first round. With one out to work with, he connected on consecutive swings to force a three-player swing-off for the final spot in round two, sending the red-clad crowd of 45,981 into a high-fiving frenzy.
One fan in the bleachers lent a helping hand, too, appearing to reach over the fence in right-centre to catch one of Pujols’ homers. During a game it might have been ruled fan interference, but there’s no video replay in the derby.
Carlos Pena hit one homer in the five-swing tiebreaker and Joe Mauer was shut out. So when Pujols homered twice he moved on — but not for long.
Looking tired, he managed six homers next time up for a two-round total of 11, easily surpassed by Fielder, Cruz and Howard, the 2006 derby champ.
“I wish I would have put a better show for our fans,” Pujols said. “I was nervous a little bit.”
After his final swing, he received a warm ovation anyway.
“Thank you so much for your support,” Pujols told the crowd.
The two-time MVP also failed to come through for a fan right before the contest. With a chance to win an attractive prize package, Mark Weinberger of Philadelphia pointed to left field a couple of times — calling Pujols’ shot.
Alas, the St. Louis slugger was unable to clear the fences.
Fielder hit the longest shot of the night, a 503-foot drive to right-centre that disappeared between two sections of bleachers.