ANAHEIM, Calif. — David Ortiz believes his power swing is all the way back, and now Boston’s beloved slugger has a trophy to prove it.
The Red Sox slugger won his first Home Run Derby title Monday night, hitting 11 homers in the final round to beat Florida’s Hanley Ramirez at Angel Stadium.
With plenty of spark in the powerful swing that once made him one of the majors’ most feared hitters, Big Papi put a relentless series of drives into the elevated stands above the right-field wall. 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.
Ortiz triumphantly held up the trophy featuring two crossed bats. He dedicated his performance to former major league pitcher Jose Lima, a fellow Dominican Republic native who passed away in May after paramedics found him in cardiac arrest at his Southern California home.
“I wanted to come here and make sure the fans enjoy what we do,” Ortiz said.
Ramirez matched Ortiz’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.
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. Ortiz finished with 13 in the second round after getting off to a fast start.
With Yankees bench coach Tony Pena feeding fastballs straight into his wheelhouse, Ortiz coolly outslugged his younger competitors to win in his first derby appearance since 2006. He reached the semifinals that year and in 2005.
He hadn’t been back in the field since — and Ortiz’s entire career was on the skids after he struggled in 2009 and again in April. Boston’s longtime star is back on his game with 18 homers and 57 RBIs this season, earning his sixth all-star berth.
“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 said Ramirez, another Dominican slugger, is “like a son to me.”
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 Toronto-native 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 centre-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 pre-game introductions, still remembering several years of post-season 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.
The outs counter on the outfield scoreboard stopped working during the second round — but Ortiz gave it a much-needed break. He barely missed a pitch while connecting on nine of his first 12 swings and hitting 13 overall.
The two finalists did nearly all their damage by pulling their shots to their respective favourite sides, and 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.
Ramirez hit nine homers in the opening round, followed by Ortiz’s eight. Cabrera edged out Matt Holliday with seven homers in the opening round. Nick Swisher hit four, Toronto’s Vernon Wells had two and Arizona’s Chris Young managed only one.
The Yankees allowed Swisher to compete in his first derby, but wouldn’t allow second baseman Robinson Cano to take any cuts, saying they were worried about his injured back.