Cespedes Wins MLB Home Run Derby Two Years After Cuba Defection

Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics won Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby, two years after defecting from Cuba.

Cespedes, 27, slugged nine homers in the final round last night to beat 20-year-old Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals, who had opened with eight. Cespedes flipped his bat in celebration at home plate after his last blast, which was estimated at 455 feet (139 meters) at Citi Field in New York.

The annual Home Run Derby is held on the eve of tonight’s All-Star Game between the American and National leagues.

“This trophy will motivate me so things continue to go well for me,” Cespedes, who wasn’t selected as an All-Star, said through an interpreter. “I just want to thank the people who believed in me, that thought I could play at this level, and especially to my family, which is here in the stadium.”

Cespedes, an outfielder in his second major league season, totaled 32 home runs over three rounds to become the first Athletics player to win the Home Run Derby since Mark McGwire in 1992. A former member of the Cuban national team, Cespedes was the second right-handed hitter to win the competition since 2005, joining Vladimir Guerrero in 2007.

Cespedes hit 17 home runs in the first round, tied for the third most in derby history, trailing only the 28 hit by Josh Hamilton in 2008 and the 24 recorded by Bobby Abreu in 2005. Twelve of those 17 homers hit by Cespedes were longer than 400 feet.

David Wright of the host New York Mets and Robinson Cano of the New York Yankees both failed to advance past the opening round. Wright, captain of the NL team, hit five homers and Cano, the AL captain, had four.

Fielder Ousted

Prince Fielder of the Detroit Tigers, who last year won his second Home Run Derby title, was ousted after hitting five home runs in the first round, as was Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who finished with six.

Harper and Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles each hit eight homers to advance to the second round, while Michael Cuddyer of the Colorado Rockies moved on with seven.

Cespedes and Harper reached the finals after recording the highest combined totals over the first two rounds. Cespedes had 23 homers and Harper had 16, one more than Cuddyer. Davis, whose 37 homers at the All-Star break are the most in the majors, had 12 through two rounds.

Harper was the second-youngest player to participate in the Home Run Derby, 39 days older than Ken Griffey Jr. was when he was in it for the first time in 1990. Harper led off in the final round and, with his father pitching to him, hit eight homers before making 10 “outs” on any ball that was swung at and failed to clear the outfield fence.

Cespedes followed and made only five outs before surpassing Harper’s final-round total. Cespedes entered the home run derby with no homers in his last 19 games for the A’s heading into the All-Star break.

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