The rain delay lasted for one hour Monday night, and then the Home Run Derby started at Target Field, as a majestic rainbow formed above the Minneapolis skyline.
The stage was set. The stands were packed. And then … little else spectacular materialized until Oakland slugger Yoenis Cespedes found his groove late to secure his second consecutive Derby crown.
Cespedes clobbered Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier 9-1 in the finals to become the first back-to-back Derby champion since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1998-99.
The announced crowd of 40,558 saw Jose Bautista hit 10 home runs to lead the American League after one round. Giancarlo Stanton hit six to lead the National League, including one to the top of Section 330 that ESPN projected at 510 feet.
Local fans were disappointed to see Brian Dozier and Justin Morneau both make first-round exits. Both received rousing ovations when they came up to hit, only to see their bats look waterlogged.
“The rain definitely affected us,” Cespedes said through a translator. “The thing is, all of us were ready to go, and all of a sudden it started to rain, so we had to cool our bodies down and get ready again.”
Dozier batted first for the American League and finished with two home runs.
Morneau, who batted last for the National League, also hit two home runs and found himself in a tiebreaker with Frazier. That gave the fans another chance to come to their feet, but each hitter got three swings, and Frazier eliminated Morneau 1-0.
Those weren’t the only buzz kills.
Yasiel Puig, considered one of the event’s bigger draws, tabbed Robinson Cano’s dad to pitch to him, but finished just like Cano did in 2012 — with zero home runs.
The hitters were limited to seven outs per round, down from 10 in previous years.
Stanton hit three jaw-dropping home runs in the first round, including a ball that nestled into the seats above the center field’s batter’s eye. In the new bracket format, Stanton got a bye into Round 3.
Frazier got past Troy Tulowitzki in Round 2 and managed just one homer in Round 3. It seemed like Stanton would go to the plate, swat two quick home runs and get some rest for the finals.
Instead, with Miami manager and former Twins catcher Mike Redmond pitching, Stanton proceeded to post a big fat zero and Frazier advanced to the finals with a Kershaw-esque 1-0 victory.
In the AL semifinal, Bautista, after getting a bye, couldn’t keep his first-round momentum and fell 7-4 to Cespedes.
“The change in the format definitely affected some players,” Cespedes said. “And I think it was difficult for people like Bautista and Stanton because they had to wait so much in between.”
That left the stage to Cespedes, as a muted crowd huddled on a 56-degree night.
A year ago, Cespedes electrified fans on a hot night at Citi Field in New York with 17 first-round home runs before edging Bryce Harper 9-8 in the finals. This time he managed just three first-round home runs. He would have been bounced were it not for Dozier’s two home runs and A’s teammate Josh Donaldson only hitting three.
Donaldson went first in the swing-off, hitting one home run in three swings. Cespedes hit two homers in two swings to advance.
In Round 2, Cespedes crushed Baltimore’s Adam Jones 9-3 before upending Bautista.
In the final against Frazier, at least six of Cespedes’ nine final-round homers traveled into the second deck. One reached the third deck.