07/12/2004 10:37 PM ET
Thome out of Derby early
Slugger hits four in first round
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com
|Jim Thome started off strong, but couldn't get into a rhythm. (Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
HOUSTON -- A buzz of anticipation accompanied the league home run leader to the plate in the first round of Monday's Century 21 Home Run Derby.
And after three swings, it looked as if Jim Thome was ready to roll into the second round of the popular home run contest.
Crushing the second and third pitches he swung at into the right-field seats at Minute Maid Park, Thome raised expectations among the energized 41,754 on hand.
But after that, the Phillies first baseman failed to get into a consistent rhythm. The left-handed slugger eventually bowed out of the first round with four homers on a night Baltimore's Miguel Tejada captured the title with a record performance of 27, counting all three rounds.
On a night the end result didn't go his way, the affable Thome was all smiles afterwards.
"It's definitely a lot of fun," Thome said. "I definitely had a great time. It was great."
Thome had nothing but praise for Tejada and runner-up Lance Berkman of the Astros. San Francisco's Barry Bonds also dazzled early, finishing second after the first round with eight. Only Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro's nine were higher in the opening round.
"Berkman did a heck of a job," Thome said. "So did Tejeda. That's what it's all about, giving the fans a show. Barry did a good job. It was good."
Thome remained in the hunt to advance until Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa rebounded from a slow start and connected on three home runs with two outs left. When Sosa's fifth homer cleared the left-field wall, Thome was officially eliminated.
Sosa was the seventh batter in the eight-player field, with the first four advancing.
Had Sosa not eclipsed four, Palmeiro, the final batter in the first round, would have.
Thome, who tops the league with 28 homers, awed the crowd with a 430-foot blast to right-center. But it wasn't enough. The veteran, who has gone deep 409 times in his career, deposited his fourth and final shot on the 10th pitch he swung at.
From there, he missed clearing the wall on his final four swings.
Each batter got 10 outs in the Derby, with an out being any swing that doesn't result in a home run.
"I think you've got to get locked in, that's the key," Thome said. "Once you get locked in and get into a groove. I felt good. I just was a little quick. I kept pulling balls fouls. You know, it's fun. That's what it's all about."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.