07/10/07 12:32 AM ET
Rios powers to second place in Derby
Jays phenom collects 19 homers but is outdone by Guerrero
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
Before heading to AT&T Park, Toronto's right fielder talked to Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard, who won the annual home run contest last season at PNC Park in Pittsburgh and finished the regular season with 58 long balls.
"He told me to take it easy -- slow it down and swing at good pitches," said Rios, discussing his brief chat with Howard. "I think I did. I took his advice and it worked pretty good."
Using a more patient approach than in a typical batting-practice session, Rios swung his way into the championship round, where he lost to Vladimir Guerrero of the Angels. In all, Rios slugged a Derby-high 19 home runs in the competition, but he only managed two in the final round against Guerrero.
"I wasn't that tired, but I think I changed my approach and started doing something wrong," said Rios, who paused and then laughed. "I hope it doesn't go into the second half."
In the opening round, Rios matched Colorado's Matt Holliday for the most home runs with five. Rios more than doubled that production in the second round, when he belted 12 homers -- the most by any of the eight competitors in any round.
Five of those 12 blasts came consecutively with nine outs. When he finally recorded his 10th out, the crowd inside the Giants' home stadium gave Rios a standing ovation.
"That was great, too. To hit with that loud crowd was amazing," said Rios, who averaged 407.5 feet per home run. "It was a great experience and I'm so glad that I did it. It's something that's not going to go away, ever."
Rios wanted to have Blue Jays batting practice pitcher Jesus Figueroa throw to him during the Derby, but the last-minute decision to join the contest left the outfielder without his first choice. Tigers second baseman Placido Polanco, who is a first-time All-Star this year, recommended Rios use Detroit infield coach Rafael Belliard.
Rios praised Belliard's pitching, and credited it for his impressive second round.
"The right spot -- exactly where I wanted it," said Rios, whose longest home run of the night traveled 452 feet.
Originally, Rios -- Toronto's offensive leader with a .294 average, 17 homers and 53 RBIs -- wasn't sure he'd accept an invitation to take part in the event. When a baseball official reached the outfielder by phone Sunday night, though, Rios decided to take part. After all, his parents, younger brother and girlfriend were going to be in the stands.
|"It was a great experience and I'm so glad that I did it. It's something that's not going to go away, ever."|
|-- Alex Rios|
"I didn't know how to say no," Rios said before the event. "I thought I'd get nervous. It's going to be something different. I've never been in a Home Run Derby before."
Actually, he has, but on a much smaller stage. Rios defeated Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells in a Derby prior to the Hall of Fame Game in May. Rios said that event was hardly comparable to Monday's contest.
"That ballpark was like 10 feet," laughed Rios, joking about the dimensions at Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y.
He made AT&T Park look small, too.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.