Reluctant Griffey steps up, and out

Mariner defends title in HR Derby after McGwire mauls wall

July 13, 1999|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- As usual, Ken Griffey was iffy about his inclusion in the All-Star Home Run Derby, saying yesterday morning that he hadn't been asked and wasn't sure if he'd do it anyway. There was a sore knee to consider, and a swing that might get out of whack. The return didn't seem worth the risk.

Let's get ready to grumble.

The list of participants given to the media contained four names from the American League: Boston's Nomar Garciaparra, Toronto's Shawn Green, Oakland's John Jaha and the Orioles' B. J. Surhoff. A blank space was left for the fifth hitter.

Griffey filled it. And the tide shifted.

Braving a contest that seems to give him as much trauma as triumph, the Seattle Mariners center fielder defended his title last night by defeating Milwaukee's Jeromy Burnitz, 3-2, in the final round and withstanding an awesome power display by Mark McGwire.

"I figured I'd go out and give it a shot," Griffey said. "This is for the fans. And somebody's got to win."

Last year, the 10-time All-Star edged Cleveland's Jim Thome, 3-2. He hit 19 homers, including a 468-foot blast, after consenting to participate only after being booed by fans at Coors Field during batting practice.

Griffey also won the event in Pittsburgh in 1994 and lost in a playoff with Texas' Juan Gonzalez in Baltimore the previous year, though he provided a memorable highlight by hitting the warehouse.

McGwire almost hit a warehouse in Maine last night. One of his shots in the first round cleared a light tower in left field, 470 feet away. Taking his hacks against San Diego coach Tim Flannery, he amassed a derby-record 13 homers in the first round after failing to advance last year. The previous record for a single round was 12 by Cal Ripken in 1991.

"Tim got me in a good groove and threw strikes," said McGwire, whose 13 homers totaled 5,692 feet -- more than a mile. "I think I broke my bat halfway through it but I finished up with it."

He left Sammy Sosa in the dust. McGwire's partner in the great home run chase of 1998 collected only one last night, matching Jaha for the lowest total.

Was it the pressure of following McGwire? "This is not pressure," Sosa said. "This is fun."

Griffey sneaked into the second round by getting three homers, the last two coming when down to his final out. Burnitz, who will start for the NL tonight in his first All-Star Game as a substitute for the injured Tony Gwynn, hit six homers in the opening round by taking advantage of the short fence in right.

That was one more than Houston's Jeff Bagwell, who was drafted by the Red Sox but didn't play here because of a trade for reliever Larry Andersen that still haunts the organization. He put three balls over the screen above the Green Monster.

Burnitz, who has hit 26 homers in the first half for the Brewers, also hit six in the second round, Bagwell only one. Griffey answered with 10, including a 460-foot drive. Cooling off after a long wait, McGwire, the last hitter of the second round, failed on his first seven swings before finishing with three and missing the cut.

"Sitting and waiting tired me out," said McGwire, who hit 18 home runs at Fenway while he played for the Oakland Athletics. "I probably tried a little too hard. I was more relaxed in the first round."

Surhoff made seven outs, the ball not coming close to the seats, before clearing the fence in right on two straight swings. Those were the only homers he'd get in his first All-Star competition.

Surhoff has 20 this season, two short of his career high, but he didn't pretend to fit in with baseball's more renowned sluggers.

Asked earlier in the day how he matched up against the likes of McGwire and Sosa, Surhoff said, "Me and Mac? I've probably got him."

Surhoff then suggested a rule change to make the contest more fair.

"I'll get the wall ball and he has to hit it over the Citgo sign. That'll even us up."

The crowd saved its loudest ovation for Garciaparra, who has been second-guessed by the local media for playing today despite a strained groin that kept him out of the past nine games. Throwing more caution to the wind by taking part in the Home Run Derby, he hit two balls over the Green Monster and failed to advance to the second round.

Home Run Derby

First round

Mark McGwire, St. L. 13

Jeromy Burnitz, Mil. 6

Jeff Bagwell, Hou. 5

Ken Griffey, Sea. 3

Nomar Garciaparra, Bos. 2

Shawn Green, Tor. 2 B.J. Surhoff, Orioles 2

Larry Walker, Col. 2

John Jaha, Oak. 1

Sammy Sosa, Chi.-NL 1

Semifinals

Ken Griffey 10

Jeromy Burnitz 6

Mark McGwire 3

Jeff Bagwell 1

Finals

Ken Griffey 3

Jeromy Burnitz 2

HR Derby past winners

1990: Ryne Sandberg, Chicago-NL (Wrigley Field)

1991: Cal Ripken, Orioles (SkyDome)

1992: Mark McGwire, Oak. (Jack Murphy Stadium)

1993: Juan Gonzalez, Texas (Oriole Park)

1994: Ken Griffey, Seattle (Three Rivers Stadium)

1995: Frank Thomas, Chi-AL (Ballpark in Arlington)

1996: Barry Bonds, S.F. (Veterans Stadium)

1997: Tino Martinez, New York-AL (Jacobs Field)

1998: Ken Griffey, Seattle (Coors Field)

1999: Ken Griffey, Seattle (Fenway Park)

Pub Date: 7/13/99

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