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07/09/07 11:54 PM ET
Howard denied back-to-back titles
Slugger enjoys Derby experience despite first-round exit
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The great reign of Ramon Henderson has come to an end. More specifically, Ryan Howard didn't make it out of the first round of Monday night's State Farm Home Run Derby. With Henderson, the Phillies' bullpen coach, on the mound, Howard was trying to repeat as the Derby champ at AT&T Park. But his three homers in the first round fell short of qualification to advance. Howard's early ouster was a surprise, given his flair for the dramatic at PNC Park in Pittsburgh last July and Henderson's two-year run as the game's premier deliverer of dingers. Henderson was the one who pitched to Derby winner Bobby Abreu in 2005 and Howard in '06. "I was very happy I was able to come over here to San Francisco for the third straight year to compete in the Home Run Derby," Henderson said. "It didn't work out. I knew that sooner or later, it was going to end." It ended, apparently, because of what became a game of shadows. The Derby was an early evening affair this year, with the West Coast start time of 5 p.m. PT. A shadow cast between the pitcher's mound and home plate wrecked havoc on Howard's approach. "It kind of plays with your depth perception a little bit," Howard said. "You could see it, but it was kind of like you weren't sure how fast it was coming in." Howard was the final participant of the first round, and he needed five homers to advance. But he didn't hit any until seven outs into his at-bat. That one barely cleared the wall in dead center field. With eight outs, he deposited another one over the right-center-field wall. And he hit one more out to deep right-center -- a 477-foot blast that was the longest homer of the first round -- before fading out. It was, therefore, an anticlimactic outing for Howard, who was invited to participate in the Derby despite the fact that he's not on the National League's All-Star roster. Nonetheless, he had a good time. "That's the main focus, to come out and have fun," he said. "Things didn't go the way we wanted them to go, but we still had fun."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.