Home Run Derby: July 14

July, 8, 2008
8:20 p.m. ET
That's all for tonight. Enjoy the Derby, and we'll be blogging again Tuesday in the hours leading up to the start of the All-Star Game.

7:56 p.m. ET
As promised, here are the rules for tonight's Home Run Derby:

• An out is registered when a player swings at a pitch and does not hit a home run. A ball hit over the fence must be fair to count as a home run. Since a home run does not count as an out, an infinite number of home runs is possible. Players will hit in the same order throughout.

Round 1
• Eight players
• Batting order determined by Major League Baseball
• Each player gets 10 outs per at-bat
• The four players with the most home runs hit in Round 1 advance to Round 2 (regardless of league affiliation)

Round 2
• Four players advance from Round 1
• Home runs carry over from Round 1
• Each players gets 10 outs per at-bat
• Two players with highest number of home runs in Round 2 advance to the Championship Round

The Championship Round
• Two players with the most home runs in Round 2 will advance to the Championship Round
• Batting order determined by Major League Baseball
• Each players gets 10 outs per at-bat
• Player with most home runs in final round is the champion

• Tiebreakers: If two or more players are tied for advancement into the next round, or for the Derby championship, a swing-off will determine who advances. Each player will get five swings to hit as many home runs as possible. If the players are still tied after five swings, they will hit again but get only three swings. This process will be repeated if necessary with three swings each until one player wins the swing-off.

By the way, the first pitch of the Derby (to Dan Uggla) is scheduled for 8:22 p.m. ET.

7:24 p.m. ET
It was 6:45 and the media needed to get off the field. As I was walking down the visitor's tunnel at Yankee Stadium, I turned and saw Frank Robinson and Ernie Banks embracing each other.

Banks was wearing a dark hat with something on the front written in a foreign language.

"What does that say on your hat?" Robinson asked Banks.

"It's Cubs, in Hebrew," his friend replied.
--Amy K. Nelson

7:22 p.m. ET
• David Ortiz says his wrist is feeling good, and he's getting ready for his rehab starts (starting Thursday) and is looking to return for the Red Sox's series against the Yankees, which begins on July 25. I asked him about his knee (the one he had offseason surgery on and which was still giving him some trouble at the start of the season) and he said his knee is stronger and feeling better. He's been taking advantage of the rehab time for the wrist to help his knee.

• Scott Kazmir reports the elbow that forced him to start the season on the DL is feeling great. He acknowledged never having anything like that before and said when he first felt the pull in his forearm (his last warm-up pitch before a spring training game), he thought maybe his season was over. He credited the Rays' medical staff with helping him to see "the big picture" in coming back gradually and said it's paying off now.

• Kevin Youkilis, who left Sunday's game after being hit in the left arm by a Daniel Cabrera pitch (official diagnosis: left triceps contusion, according to the Boston Herald), says that the pitch "hit the nerve" and he was feeling some numbness down into his hand. He said the numbness disappeared during the drive from Boston to New York and that he now feels fine. When I asked if he was ready to play, he said, "Oh yeah, I'm ready."

• Kerry Wood says the blister on his right (throwing) index finger is feeling pretty good. He says he probably could pitch, but the Cubs didn't want him to risk aggravating the blister and potentially creating a problem that could linger into the second half of the season. I asked Wood how he managed to stay motivated to work through the lengthy rehab process for his shoulder when so many had written him off. He credited his wife and his physical therapist with being the only two people who really understood what he was going through on a daily basis and who believed in him -- and said their support is what helped him to make it back. (Of course, I loved the physical therapist comment.)

• Alfonso Soriano says he's still suffering from some lingering pain in his broken hand (official diagnosis: fractured fourth metacarpal) that is keeping him out of the All-Star lineup. He hopes to start hitting Friday and then return to the Cubs' lineup in about two weeks. I asked him how his legs were doing. He has had several muscle injuries, the latest a calf strain this year, that have seemed to influence his base stealing, and he has appeared more apprehensive to really let go with the running. He said he has been working his legs out hard while rehabbing his hand, adding that he has no worries about his legs, and saying he expects to resume stealing more bases. I asked if he thought he could come back and hit for power right away with his hand, to which he appeared a little hesitant, adding that since he hadn't really practiced yet he wasn't sure, but he hopes that once he starts swinging, the power will come. Hmm. Guys often struggle with power immediately following a hand/finger injury and I thought Soriano's uncertainty was a little telling.

• Albert Pujols says his elbow is feeling about the same. It's really not bothering him too much, although he admits it's not perfect, he can't straighten it all the way and he is continuing to do exercises for it during the season. But he does not think about it when he plays. He plays at 100 percent and "if I blow it out, I blow it out." I reminded him that much was made of his elbow injury at the start of the season, and that the team had said he would rest more frequently to help ensure his health across the season, but that had not happened until he injured his calf. He laughed and said he felt that all things happened for a reason. "Maybe my elbow was about to hurt, so I blew out my calf and had to rest my elbow." He was quick to credit his manager with constantly checking in with him to see how he was feeling and giving him rest if he thought he needed it.

• Chipper Jones says he still feels his balky quad, especially during "the extension" (meaning when he really has to run full speed, full stride). He does feel it when he comes out of the batter's box, but he says the short little steps aren't so bad. However, if he has to really extend, like when trying to go from first to third, or trying to score from second on a base hit, that's when he feels it the most, and those incidents also keep the injury from healing. I asked him how he balances the decision to play with the knowledge that his leg is not really healing and he risks injuring it further if he continues. He said as one of the leaders of the club he has to be out there, but that if it gets to a point where he can't do what he needs to do on offense and defense, then he won't play. In other words, he can do what he needs to, but he's feeling it when he does it.
--Stephania Bell

6:32 p.m. ET
Lots of players are wistful about Yankee Stadium being replaced in 2009. Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones is one of a small group of people who are sorry to see its New York neighbor, Shea Stadium, go by the wayside.

The Mets' home park will give way to Citi Field next April. That's a sad development for Jones, who has a career .310 batting average and a .561 slugging percentage at Shea Stadium. He's so partial to the place, he named his third son Shea.

"It's a combination of a lot of things,'' Jones said. "I hit my first major league homer there, and the Mets and Braves have had so many epic battles over the years. It's a place where I really enjoyed playing. And I love the name, so it made sense.''

On Monday, Jones approached Mets PR director Jay Horwitz about getting a Shea Stadium seat or sign that he can put in his son's room at home. Sometime this summer Jones hopes to bring Shea -- who'll turn 4 in August -- to Flushing Meadow for a farewell tour.

"I want to get him up here and walk him around before they tear it down,'' Jones said.
--Jerry Crasnick

6:11 p.m. ET
I just received the batting order for tonight's Home Run Derby. Here it is:

1. Dan Uggla
2. Grady Sizemore
3. Evan Longoria
4. Chase Utley
5. Lance Berkman
6. Justin Morneau
7. Ryan Braun
8. Josh Hamilton

Sometime before the power-hitting festivities begin, I'll send out the official Derby rules.

6:01 p.m. ET
About 10 to 15 minutes ago, Amy Nelson fired me a note from the field, where the media is standing in a roped-off area to keep them away from the field and the batting-cage area as the American League takes BP. Her one-word note in the subject area: "Wow." In other words, there's very little wiggle room down there. Not an ideal or comfortable situation on an 80-degree night in New York.

I don't have an official count on the number of credentials that Major League Baseball issued this year, but given the city, the stadium, the team that plays here, etc., there's no question that this is the largest media contingent to ever cover an All-Star Game. There are essentially three main press areas -- the main press box and two auxiliary press areas, one in the upper deck down the left-field line and one in the second deck in right field, where I'm currently seated.

As a member of the media, it's always a privilege to be able to walk out onto a major league field, and it's particularly special at a place like Yankee Stadium. But at the moment, seeing the media shoehorned into a very confined area, this is one time I'm more than happy to be sitting where I am.
--David Kull

5:48 p.m. ET
Everyone, it seems, knows all about Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton's trying personal ordeal, his inspirational comeback from drug problems and the religious awakening that's helped keep him on the right path in recent years. Hamilton leads the major leagues with 95 RBIs at the All-Star break, and several players tabbed him as the early Home Run Derby favorite because of his light-tower power.

With all the publicity that Hamilton has received in the past year, is there anything about him that people don't know? Texas second baseman Ian Kinsler took a stab at that question during the players' interview session.

"He's in the hot tub about five minutes before the game [because of his injuries],'' Kinsler said. "He wears Nike ankle socks with his dress clothes. And he's a great teammate. I don't know if people know that. He's unbelievable in the locker room.''
--Jerry Crasnick

5:21 p.m. ET
Player interview sessions can frequently be filled with banal questions and mindless responses. But there was a legitimately poignant moment Monday when Yankees closer Mariano Rivera was asked about Bobby Murcer, the popular ex-Yankee who died Saturday of complications from brain cancer. Murcer was 62.

Rivera said that Murcer tried to be upbeat and reassuring to the Yankees players to the very end.

"He was dying, basically, and he was still there with that big smile and giving us hugs and telling us everything was going to be fine,'' Rivera said. "We'll definitely miss Bobby. On a day like today, he would have been there with a big smile. I'm definitely going to miss Bobby.''
--Jerry Crasnick

5:12 p.m. ET
You know how you go to a concert and you look up at the throng of folks crushing the front of the stage? That's what Media Day is like, where you and your trusty cameraman (in this case, Anthony Spadacenta) have about an hour to try and get face time with as many players as possible.

All the players are just lined up, each at a little desk with his name, awaiting folks. We're all let in at the same time, so there's this mad rush to try and find folks. "There's Jeter!" "A-Rod's in the corner!" "No one's by Guzman, want to get him? Eh, in a minute."

Everyone's jostling for position, shoving mikes and trying to get as many answers as possible. Some highlights from my conversations:

1. Geovany Soto loved catching Rich Harden for the first time and thinks he's going to be a huge addition. You won't see any of that on tape because some camera guy next to us kept turning his lights on and off during our answer, trying to get lighting for his guy. I gave him an evil glare. He didn't care.

2. Joe Nathan says that Kevin Slowey has the best control of any pitcher he's ever been around. Like Brad Radke, but possibly even better.

3. Dan Haren told me he feels he has pitched well this year but has been somewhat lucky, too. He also playfully yelled at me for calling him a bust in the preseason this year, quoting back to me all the reasons I didn't like him as a No. 1 fantasy pitcher.

4. Carlos Marmol is happy to have a few days off. He feels that his recent run of ineffectiveness might be because of the number of innings he's pitched recently.

5. Brian McCann feels as healthy as he ever has at this point in the season. He also thinks the trip to the minors helped Jeff Francoeur, whose stance is back to what it was the past two years. McCann expects the Franc of old to appear after the break.

6. Dustin Pedroia tells us that last year Eric Hinske won the Red Sox Fantasy Football League. Pedroia finished third, losing to Hinske in the semis.

7. Scott Kazmir says Hinske has been talking all sorts of trash about his Fantasy prowess in the Tampa Bay locker room and has declared himself the guy to beat.

8. You'd have been amazed at how many times Hinske's name came up when asking guys about who talks the best trash.

9. Derek Jeter and Russell Martin both expect to run more in the second half -- especially Martin, who acknowledges the Dodgers need to "play small ball" to try to generate offense.

10. Josh Hamilton finds himself more focused when there are runners in scoring position.

11. None of the Home Run Derby participants I talked to is worried about the contest affecting his swing.

12. Chase Utley credits being in the ESPN Fantasy commercial as the sole reason for his success. Look, you weren't there. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

13. Almost every baseball player plays Fantasy Football, with Brian McCann, Matt Holliday, Dan Haren and Scott Kazmir among the most enthusiastic.

Last night's MLB party that Amy Nelson wrote about was fun. In addition to what Amy reported, fellow ESPNers Kenny Mayne, Linda Cohn and Erin Andrews were all up in the VIP area, with Kenny wishing he could get another shot at his last at-bat in the celebrity softball game.

Tonight, the big parties that folks are talking about seem to be the Torii Hunter-Mariano Rivera party at Pink Elephant and the Derek Jeter-Jordan Brand party at Rampage. I haven't really heard anyone talk about the Alex Rodriguez-Jay-Z party, but why am I not worried about it? I'm guessing they'll do just fine for guests.
--Matthew Berry

5:05 p.m. ET
ESPN's excellent research staff has outdone itself when it comes to providing interesting notes related to the Home Run Derby, and home runs in general. Here are a few of the best nuggets:

• So far in 2008, the homers-per-game rate is 1.96, which is only slightly lower than last year's rate (1.97) and the lowest since 1993 (1.78).

• Yankee Stadium is a much better home-run park for left-handed batters than for right-handed batters. Since the stadium was remodeled in 1976, left-handed batters have averaged one home run every 28.5 at-bats, while right-handed batters have averaged one homer every 40.1 at-bats.

• Of the 2008 Derby participants, Lance Berkman is the only switch-hitter, but he has decided to hit righty tonight. The other right-handed hitters are Ryan Braun, Evan Longoria and Dan Uggla. The lefties are Josh Hamilton, Justin Morneau, Grady Sizemore and Chase Utley.

• The short right-field porch gives the left-handed hitters a natural advantage in the HR Derby over the right-handed batters. While Berkman tends to use more of the field when he hits from the left side, the four left-handed participants have pulled 82 percent of their combined dingers over the right-field fence this season:

    Utley -- 92 percent to right; 8 percent to center
    Sizemore -- 90.9 percent to RF; 4.5 percent to CF; 4.5 percent to LF
    Morneau -- 85.7 percent to RF; 14.3 percent to CF
    Hamilton -- 61.9 percent to RF; 4.8 percent to CF; 33.3 percent to LF

• Here are the career HR rates for each participant: Braun -- one HR every 14.5 at-bats, Berkman -- 16.3, Hamilton -- 16.9, Uggla -- 19.1, Longoria -- 19.1, Morneau -- 19.5, Utley -- 20.5, Sizemore -- 24.

• Despite Yankee Stadium being a much better home-run park for left-handed batters, Alex Rodriguez has a better home-run rate at home (one HR every 13.1 at-bats) than on the road (one every 14.5 at-bats) since he joined the Yankees in 2004.

• At the All-Star break, Philadelphia's Ryan Howard leads the majors with 28 home runs. Howard, who did not make the All-Star team, is only the fifth player to be the outright leader in home runs at the break and fail to make an All-Star team. The others were Hank Greenberg in 1935, Hank Sauer in 1948, Frank Howard in 1967 and Dave Kingman in 1984.

And there are plenty more notes where those came from.
--David Kull

3:39 p.m. ET
I ran into Adrian Gonzalez in the lobby before the mass press conferences started, and the San Diego first baseman said he was thrilled to be at his first All-Star Game.

He was, however, a bit disappointed he wasn't asked to participate in the Home Run Derby. "It would have been cool," Gonzalez said. He was in town with his parents, David and Alba; his eldest brother, David; and his wife, Betsy.

Before he leaves the Big Apple to rejoin the Padres in St. Louis, Gonzalez and his family hope to catch a Broadway show.
--Amy K. Nelson

2:48 p.m. ET
We're more than five hours away from the start of the Home Run Derby, but there's already been plenty of activity today. This morning at New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel, the All-Star news conferences were held, in which the starting lineups and pitchers were named (Cliff Lee for the American League and Ben Sheets for the National League).

The AL players were made available to the media at noon ET, followed by the Home Run Derby news conference at 1 p.m. and then the NL player availability time just ended about 15 minutes ago.

While today's blog headline reads "Home Run Derby: July 14," MLB has dubbed this day "Gatorade All-Star Workout Day." We only reference the Derby in the headline because it's the day's marquee event. Anyway, this afternoon the All-Stars will be taking batting practice at the following times: the AL at 5:30 ET and the NL at 6:25 ET.

The press gates are already open at Yankee Stadium, so we'll try to keep you plugged in to what's going on throughout the day.
--David Kull, senior baseball editor

2:15 p.m. ET
You know All-Star weekend has officially kicked off when the parties begin. Last night was a good way to set it off, when I went to the Roseland Ballroom in midtown Manhattan for a party thrown by Joba Chamberlain and Alyssa Milano in conjunction with MLB.com.

The ticket was a tough one to get; even staff reporters for the Web site weren't given passes and the lines outside the Roseland were deep. The headline act of the night was Wyclef Jean, who performed an entertaining set -- even though at times he was lip-synching some of his songs. Wyclef invited women to join him for a dance in a makeshift dance cube, and it was by far the most entertaining visual of the night.

Among those spotted in the crowd were, of course, Milano and Chamberlain; Red Sox owner John Henry made an appearance and All-Stars Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer and Dan Haren were all in the upstairs VIP section.

When I ran into Haren, he said his mother-in-law was with him along with six or seven other family members. No word on whether she enjoyed Wyclef. Colleague and fantasy expert Matthew Berry kindly helped me get into the uber-VIP section, which was where most of the celebrities and athletes hung out, until it emptied when Wyclef finished his set. DJ Jazzy Jeff was up next, entertaining what was left of the crowd.
--Amy K. Nelson



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