Bautista falls short in Derby with four dingers
Blue Jays slugger, MLB homer leader ousted after first round
PHOENIX -- Jose Bautista has hit in pressure situations, in big stadiums and with packed crowds. He has homered in them all, which is how he owns 85 home runs over the last season and a half. But the Home Run Derby, he said, was a tougher experience.
He's far from the first to discover that. That's one reason why regular-season home run champions haven't won many State Farm Home Run Derby crowns. In Bautista's case, he was eliminated in the opening round with four homers Monday night at Chase Field.
"There's only one thing you can do here," Bautista said. "It doesn't matter if you hit the ball hard. You've got to hit it over the fence. When I'm at the plate [in a game], I've just got to hit it hard and then I know it's out of my control. Here, I have to hit it over, so it's an objective. It's not as easy."
For two swings, it looked easy for Bautista. After that, he went almost as long without a home run as he averages between homers in real games with pitchers trying to get him out.
As such, he continued the trend. Since at least 2002, the player with the most regular-season home runs going into the Home Run Derby hasn't won it. No reigning regular-season home run champion has won the Home Run Derby since Ken Griffey Jr. followed up 56 home runs from the 1997 season with 19 home runs in the 1998 Derby at Coors Field.
Bautista's 54 home runs last year topped anyone else in the Majors by 12, and his 31 home runs this year entering the All-Star break has him six ahead of Yankees teammates Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson. After his first couple of swings, he seemed on his way to a strong output in the Home Run Derby.
Bautista took the first handful of pitches from Blue Jays bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos, something he said was his plan from the outset. He then drove a pitch 409 feet into the seats in left-center field. He sent his next ball out to left on a line drive, just high enough to clear the fence and find the first row of seats.
Surprisingly, that didn't help him relax.
"I think the nerves got to me a little bit," Bautista said, "but that sort of thing can happen in this setup like that. I'm not really used to hitting without a cage over me for batting practice and in front of the pitcher. It's a different visual. I'm not here to make excuses. I just swung at some pitches I couldn't handle."
The kind of slump that followed is one that regular-season pitchers have struggled to put him in. Bautista pulled everything, but either hit it on the ground or popped it up into left field. He hit a decent line drive on his 11th swing, the kind of swing that could've earned him a solid base hit in a game.
In this format, as he described it, that "doesn't get you anything."
It got him his ninth consecutive out. By comparison, Bautista has averaged a home run every 9.6 at-bats this season. Fellow Derby contestant and eventual winner Robinson Cano stopped him after five outs for a water break, and American League Derby captain David Ortiz met him near the on-deck circle for a pep talk.
"He just told me to relax," Bautista said of Ortiz. "It helped me a little bit. I hit two out and the gold ball."
Those two came after a popout to shortstop and a liner to short left brought him to his last out. He ended his drought with a line-drive homer down the left-field line, estimated at 402 feet. He lofted his next pitch into the second deck in left field before popping out to shallow center field and ending his opening round.
The four-homer effort was enough to place him fourth after five contestants. Once Ortiz homered five times in his opening round, Bautista was eliminated.
"Bottom line is I didn't qualify," Bautista said. "But it was fun, a lot of fun, and we got to raise some money for the charities."
Asked if he would do it again, Bautista didn't hesitate.
"Of course," he said. "Like I said from the beginning, I don't think it's going to ruin my swing. I didn't change anything that I do normally. I wasn't trying to lift balls. I was just trying to hit the ball hard and hope that it went out. I didn't hit enough, but if they ask me again, of course I'll do it."