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07/14/08 11:09 PM ET

Berkman surprises everyone at Derby

Astros slugger decides to hit lefty instead of righty in contest

NEW YORK -- Lance Berkman was leaning toward hitting right-handed during the State Farm Home Run Derby, but he decided to make the final decision after taking batting practice at Yankee Stadium on Monday night.

Apparently, the lure of the short fence in right field was too tempting to pass up, and after feeling much more comfortable from the left side during BP, Berkman decided to stick with what works best for him.

Good choice. Berkman started the first round slowly, but he quickly moved into the lead -- briefly -- knocking eight home runs in the first round to advance to the second.

Berkman hit six in the second round, but he was eliminated when the Twins' Justin Morneau hit nine. Only two advanced after Round 2 -- Morneau and Josh Hamilton, who, with his record 28 first-round shots, pretty much ran the table in the first and second round of the competition.

"It was really tough to follow that," Berkman said with a chuckle. "You had to get in the batter's box. ... I crushed one and everybody was like, 'Oh, there's a homer.'"

Berkman's results were a little bit better than two of his past three Derbys, but not as impressive as his best one in 2004, when he launched 21 homers at Minute Maid Park to finish in second place behind then-Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada.

In 2002, Berkman hit just one, and in '06, he hit only three.

Although Berkman always enjoys his Derby experiences, the truth is he almost begged off this year. He considered sitting back and watching as a spectator while passing the torch to the other young sluggers in the league who may enjoy showing off their power.

But Berkman's wife, Cara, intervened.

"She thinks the game is boring, so she wanted me to [participate] in the Derby, because she thinks that's exciting," Berkman said. "I was leaning toward getting somebody else do it, because this is my fourth one. Now I'm under the gun again because of her."

While Berkman ultimately decided to hit left-handed, he surmised before the Derby that right-handers would have just as much of a chance to win it.

"If these right-handed hitters catch a ball clean, the dimensions of the park don't matter," he said. "The Home Run Derby is all about getting in a groove, and whoever gets in a groove will win."

Little did he know the left-handed-hitting Hamilton would pretty much make the Derby a one-man show until the final round, much to the delight of 53,716 fans at Yankee Stadium.

"That was one of the most impressive displays I've seen," Berkman said. "I'm just glad I witnessed it."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.