07/09/07 11:50 PM ET
Pujols falls in Derby's second round
Cardinals first baseman ties for third place with 13 home runs
By Matthew Leach / MLB.com
Pujols fell two home runs short of advancing to the finals of the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday night, finishing with nine homers in the second round and 13 total. He tied for third place with Matt Holliday, while Vladimir Guerrero topped Alex Rios in the finals.
Pujols' last swing nearly left the field of play at AT&T Park, bouncing harmlessly on the warning track as his son, A.J., tried to urge it over the wall. It was the second time Pujols finished a round with a ball that came within a few feet of clearing the fence.
A.J. Pujols gave his father a fist-pump for good luck after out No. 9 of the second round, and dad drilled two long balls after that. He couldn't get the third and fourth he needed to advance, but the elder Pujols was grinning afterward just the same.
"I'm happy because my boy is happy," Pujols said. "I wanted to dedicate the trophy to him. ... I just wanted to do it for him. It means a lot to him. I knew it was going to be a big thing for him. I tried to do my best to do that, but I had a good time."
The slugger swung almost exclusively to left field, pulling 12 of his 13 homers. Only his first dinger went anywhere but left, flying to almost straightaway center.
That marked a change from Pujols' outstanding showing in the 2003 Derby at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. In that event, the slugger peppered balls to all fields, with plenty of dingers going to center and right field.
Home run totals were down early in the event, as a difficult sun made it tough for hitters to see the ball. As the shadows crossed the field, the conditions finally began to favor hitters, and the show was on. Pujols hit four homers in the first round, two in a Swingoff to advance to the second and nine in the third.
"He got a little tired," said Cardinals first-base coach Dave McKay, who pitched to Pujols. "Earlier, nobody could see the ball. It was real bright. Then you had the shadows. And it wasn't until later where you could see the ball, and then you started to see some home runs."
Pujols almost didn't survive the cut in the first round. He finished tied for fourth place out of eight with the Twins' Justin Morneau, advancing to a five-out Swingoff.
In previous years, Pujols would not have advanced due to the tiebreaker, which used to be based on a player's regular-season home runs to date. Morneau hit one long ball in his five outs, while Pujols went deep on his first two swings of the "extra inning."
Despite a long layoff before the second round, Pujols seemed to carry some momentum. He took three pitches, went deep on consecutive swings, took another pitch and smoked another long ball just inside the foul pole.
Then the jinx came, as announcer Chris Berman noted that Pujols had yet to make an out in the second round.
"That's like saying this guy has a no-hitter in the fifth inning," McKay said.
After the pronouncement, Pujols made outs on six straight swings before he finally regained his home run groove. He hit his fourth and fifth shots of the round, took his seventh out, and then absolutely destroyed a ball that landed foul but almost in the upper deck for the eighth out.
Two more homers after that gave Pujols seven for the round, but out No. 9 soon followed. A.J.'s good-luck fist-pump gave him a surge, but it wasn't enough.
"I had fun," Pujols said. "I'm glad that I got a second chance to be in the second round and to put on a show for the fans. I had the opportunity to advance, but it was pretty tough."
In the first round, Pujols took three straight pitches before his first swing, the home run to center. His next two swings resulted in solid line drives, but in the Home Run Derby, solid liners count as outs. Pujols' third out came on a ground ball before he hit a 423-foot shot into the left-field stands. A foul ball was followed by three more line-drive outs before Pujols hit No. 3, which soared 435 feet into the seats in left.
Out No. 8 came on a foul ball, and then Pujols hit his fourth and final home run to left field. He slapped a chopper to the left side for out No. 9 before coming ever so close on his last swing. Out No. 10 flew majestically but fell on the warning track just a couple of feet in front of the left-field wall.
Pujols' 15 homers traveled an average of 433 feet. His longest shot was a 469-footer in the Swingoff round that landed on a walkway in between the left-field bleachers and the stands down the third-base line.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.