Substitute slugger is new home run king
Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada hit a record 27 home runs to beat out some of the game's best sluggers and win the annual home run derby on the eve of Major League Baseball's All-Star game.
Tejada hit five of his homers in the last round to beat Houston Astros outfielder Lance Berkman after the two advanced to the finals against better known power hitters such as San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.
Tejada's 27 homers topped the previous record of 26 held by the St Louis Cardinals' Albert Pujols and Sosa.
He hit 15 home runs in the second round, which was a record for an individual round, and had the night's longest blast - a 493-foot shot over the left field fence at Minute Maid Park.
"I never thought I was going to be in the home run derby in my life. I know I can hit home runs, but I never think that I am a home run hitter," said Tejada, 28.
He said he was helped by the cozy dimensions of Minute Maid, which is known as a hitter's park.
"You know, when you've got a chance to hit in a ballpark like that, you've got to take advantage."
Berkman was the hometown favorite and obliged with 21 homers, including 10 in the second round.
Neither Berkman nor Tejada were originally scheduled to compete in the home run contest.
Berkman replaced Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr after he tore a hamstring muscle on Sunday, while Tejada filled in for New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, who has parasites.
Giambi has said he will participate in the All-Star game on Tuesday night at Minute Maid. Griffey was at the stadium, but would not play because of his injury.
The competition began with eight players, including Bonds, Sosa, Jim Thome of the Philadelphia Phillies, Hank Blalock of the Texas Rangers, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox and Tejada's Baltimore teammate, Rafael Palmeiro.
Sosa, Thome, Blaylock and Ortiz were eliminated in the first round, followed by Bonds and Palmeiro in the second round.
The eight sluggers battled it out with some of the game's greatest home run hitters looking on.
Major League Baseball brought together the 14 living players who have hit 500 home runs in their career, including baseball legends Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Hank Aaron. Aaron is the all-time home run leader with 755 in his career.
Only 20 players have hit more than 500 home runs.
"When you stop and consider there have been more than 16,000 players, you can understand the magnitude of this distinguished achievement," baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.
"This is our golden era," he said.
Meanwhile, bitter rivals Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza, who will be the NL's staring battery, have called a temporary truce.
In an odd twist of fate, the two future Hall of Famers will be supporting each other .
"I don't know if we're going to be playing golf anytime soon," Piazza said on Monday. "But we're both professionals and we've got a job to do."
Added Clemens: "It's not that big a deal. It's not an issue."
On July 8, 2000, while Clemens was pitching for the New York Yankees, he threw a fastball that struck the Mets catcher on the head, knocking him to the ground and leaving him with a concussion.
The beaning forced Piazza, that year's leading NL vote-getter, to miss the All-Star Game. Three months later, when the Yankees and Mets squared off in the World Series, Piazza swung at a fastball in game two that sawed off his bat, and the barrel of it bounced right back to Clemens. The pitcher picked it up and fired it at Piazza as he ran to first base.
Clemens, who has always insisted he didn't mean to throw the bat at Piazza, was fined US$50,000 for the incident. When he later telephoned to apologize, Piazza refused to take the call. Bad feelings have lingered on both sides ever since.
"I'm just glad to be throwing to Mike, and that I don't have to face him at the plate," said Clemens.