PITTSBURGH -- In the world of the Mets and their fans, it's still all good and all Wright. David Wright, dismissed as a Home Run Derby lightweight whose inclusion in the field of eight was a nod to the Mets' dominant showing and their huge fan base, continued Flushing's magical season with a charmed evening. An eye-popping first round carried Wright into the finals of Monday night's CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby, where he was finally cut down to size by Ryan Howard of the Phillies, 5-4, in an all-NL East showdown.
"It's all right. It's a little disappointing, but Ryan Howard can have the Home Run Derby if the Mets can have the National League East," Wright, sweat still glistening on his forehead, said a few minutes after the night's final swing. Spotting his adversary four inches and 55 pounds, Wright rebounded from a weary second round but couldn't hold off Howard, who seemed to be just hitting his stride and clinched the Derby with half of his 10 outs remaining. That culminated a comeback affair for Howard, who had finished the opening round with half of the homers hit by Wright, who was spent by that early display. "I was unconscious in the beginning," Wright said. "Then we had the break, and I cooled off. I was brought back down to earth. I wish I would've had all my 30 outs in that first round. I might still be hitting." Wright electrified what had been a sluggish first round. With teammate Paul Lo Duca pitching to him, the Mets' cover-boy third baseman jacked 16 balls into faraway PNC Park seats. That was the third-best opening round in the 21-year history of the Home Run Derby, ranking behind only the two monster exhibitions in last year's edition -- Bobby Abreu's 24 and David Ortiz's 17. The opening show also set up Wright nicely for the second round, considering the new rule of carrying over first-round totals. With Ortiz's 10 the runner-up total, Wright took a sizable edge into a second round that also included Miguel Cabrera (nine) and Howard (eight). Admittedly worn down by his 26-cut first round, Wright muscled only two more balls out of the park in the second round. But Ortiz, considered the Derby favorite, similarly declined to three, while Cabrera passed him with six, before Howard eliminated both of them with a second round of 10 to match Wright's cumulative total of 18.
Wright's plan had been simple, and he carried it out to perfection.
"I'll swing hard, try to keep the same swing I've been using," Wright had said before the competition began. "I'll try to elevate the ball a bit, try to get a good backspin on it."
Taking an acerbic approach to their eccentric teaming, Lo Duca had told him, "Just hit a couple. Don't get embarrassed."
The Mets catcher had also predicted good-naturedly that if his teammate flopped, "I'm sure he'll blame me. He blames me for everything."
Neither happened, to say the least. Lo Duca kept throwing pitches into Wright's wheelhouse, as they made beautiful noise together.
This wasn't the first time Lo Duca pitched gopher balls. But it was the first time he did it in front of 38,000 in the seats -- or in front of even seats.
"I pitch batting practice to my junior college when I go back home," Lo Duca said. "This is just something I wanted to do."
Lo Duca's simple plan was to "throw straight fastballs, over the top. He told me to pitch him down and in, and that's what I'll try to do."
As has most everything else the Mets have tried to do this season, the plan worked to perfection. After Wright's first four swings produced three outs, the tandem found a groove.
Twice, Wright struck five straight homers, most of his drives digging an aerial tunnel to left-center -- including his longest shot of 476 feet.
Afterwards, Wright wasn't sure who was more worn out, swinger or thrower.
"I guarantee you I'm gonna go in there," he said, nodding toward the clubhouse, "and Lo Duca's gonna have ice on his shoulder. And he's going to complain. Tom Glavine is already concerned about Paul's rotator cuff."
Ahh, the sweet sound of winners chirping.
Wright's basic approach clearly worked, at least until he came out of the chute so strong that he emptied his tank."In regular batting practice, we usually take six to eight swings a turn," Wright said. "I was pretty tired with all the swings in that round." Wright lost the Derby, but there was no doubt in his mind he had won over the doubters. He was sent off by the razzing of his teammates, including Cliff Floyd, who had essentially predicted he would go deep only twice and go home. "Cliff owes me," Wright said with a broad smile. "I'm very happy. I can go back to my teammates and hold my head high. "The guys had been giving me a hard time ... 'You'll be lucky to hit one,' stuff like that. I can definitely walk back in there with a little swagger. "It was a lot of fun, definitely a blast," he added, no pun intended.
|"It's all right. It's a little disappointing, but Ryan Howard can have the Home Run Derby if the Mets can have the National League East."|
|-- David Wright, on his second-place finish on Monday night|
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.