O's Tejada goes a long way to Home Run Derby crown

Shortstop sets two records, tops Berkman for title, 5-4

All-Star notebook

July 13, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

HOUSTON -- The thousand-watt smile and powerful, compact swing of Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada were on full display last night before a national television audience.

Asked to join baseball's annual Home Run Derby as a last-minute replacement for New York Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, Tejada won the contest, setting two records in the process, before an appreciative crowd of 41,754 at Minute Maid Park.

After swatting a record 15 home runs in the second round, Tejada defeated hometown favorite Lance Berkman of the Houston Astros in the championship, 5-4.

"I never thought I was going to be in a home run contest in my life," said Tejada, whose total of 27 homers for three rounds also was a record. "I don't think I'm a home run hitter. ... It's unbelievable for me."

Tejada became the first Oriole to win the contest since Cal Ripken in 1991. That year, when it was an American League vs. National League competition, Ripken led all participants with 12. He went on to win the AL Most Valuable Player honor that season.

This time, with the Orioles stuck in last place, Tejada and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro finally gave their fans something to cheer about.

Palmeiro, who was asked specially to participate as a member of baseball's 500 home run club last night, led all eight participants with nine home runs in the first round, but bowed out in the second round with five.

"Today's the day that's going to help Raffy and me to help Baltimore for the second half," Tejada said. "Then those guys can see no matter how down we are, we can win in the second half."

For each round, each player was allowed 10 outs (or non-home runs), and Tejada made a huge rally in the first round, hitting five of his seven home runs with two outs remaining. That put him in the second round, along with Berkman, Barry Bonds and Palmeiro.

The ballpark's roof was closed for the first round and opened for the second round, as balls are known to travel farther here with the roof open. Tejada requested Kansas City Royals manager Tony Pena as his pitcher, as the two are good friends from their native Dominican Republic.

Tejada hit the longest home run of the evening in that round, a 497-foot blast over the left-field wall and out of the ballpark.

With Boston Red Sox first baseman David Ortiz, another Dominican friend, cheering him from the side, Tejada stole the show in round two.

The previous one-round record of 14 home runs was set by Albert Pujols (2003) and Giambi (2001).

"First of all," Tejada said, "when I stepped to the plate, I just wanted to hit one."

Berkman, who hit 17 home runs in the first two rounds, led off the finals and stumbled, hitting just four home runs. Tejada beat that easily, swatting five home runs with five outs remaining.

He raised his arms in triumph as the ball landed in the left-field seats of the right-handed hitter's paradise.

"I look in my family's eyes, and they were jumping around and so happy," Tejada said. "I don't think I'm going to forget this day."

Other previous winners of the Home Run Derby include Anaheim's Garret Anderson (2003), Giambi (2002), Luis Gonzalez (2001), Sammy Sosa (2000), Ken Griffey Jr. (1998, 1999), Tino Martinez (1997) and Bonds (1996).

The Orioles signed Tejada to a six-year, $72 million contract in November, and he emerged as their lone All-Star representative. Tejada was the American League Most Valuable Player with the Oakland Athletics in 2002, when he slugged a career high 34 home runs.

This season, Tejada is hitting .311 with 15 home runs and 75 RBIs.

The contest started with a quick, practical joke on Bonds. He stood in to take his first cuts, and the catcher stood up, extended his left arm, signaling for an intentional walk -- something Bonds has experienced 71 times already this season.

Bonds seemed to have a good chuckle. Then he stepped in and swatted eight home runs in the first round, including a 483-foot shot over the second deck in right field.

Murray speaks

Those who spoke to Hall of Famer Eddie Murray after the Orioles hired Lee Mazzilli as manager last fall said he was privately fuming at the decision. But after declining several interview requests on the subject, he made his first public comments on the matter yesterday, and expressed no bitterness.

"That's over and done with," Murray said after being honored, along with the other 13 living members of baseball's 500 home run club. "They had their choice to pick who they wanted to. As long as they were interviewing people, they could pick who they want, and that's what they did."

Asked if the experience diminished his desire to become a big league manager, Murray said, "I have no idea. It depends on where. I just don't want to go anywhere. ... You learn to never say never."

R. Johnson open to trade

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson started his press conference yesterday by chiding reporters for all the recent trade speculation surrounding his name.

"You guys scurried over here like cockroaches," he said.

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