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 in the night 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 got to see Jose Bautista hit 10 home runs to lead the American League after one round, and Giancarlo Stanton hit six to lead the National League, including a shot toward the top of Section 330.
But the paying customers had to be disappointed to see Brian Dozier and Justin Morneau make first-round exits. Both received rousing ovations when they came up to hit, only to see their bats look waterlogged.
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.
Frazier edged Stanton 1-0 in a yawner of an NL semifinal. The AL semifinal featured a good matchup between Cespedes and Bautista, but Bautista couldn’t keep his first-round momentum and fell 7-4.
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.
Adam Jones and Troy Tulowitzki hit four home runs apiece — and both advanced comfortably into the second round.
Earlier in the day, optimism reigned.
Morneau said he woke up and checked the wind, hoping it was blowing to right. For much of the day, there was indeed a stiff wind blowing to right field, but the flags on Target Plaza were practically still by the time he came to the plate at 9:06 p.m.
During batting practice, Morneau smashed a ball onto that same plaza with his last swing, and left the cage waving to the fans with a “Let me hear ya!” arm wave.
Morneau had Ron Gardenhire pitch to him in the 2007 derby in San Francisco and hit four home runs, failing to exit the first round. The next year, Morneau had Twins coach Joe Vavra pitch to him, and that helped him knock off Josh Hamilton in the finals.
Morneau said he considered tabbing Vavra again, but he wound up going with Rockies bullpen catcher Pat Burgess, who also threw to Tulowitzki. Burgess is a childhood friend of Tulowitzki’s and throws the pair batting practice each day.
“I asked him if he was willing to throw to two guys; you don’t want to wear him out,” Morneau said. “But he throws a lot. I wanted to [ask Vavra], but at the same time, I wanted to be loyal to my new team, too.”
For Dozier, the night offered a chance to relive his childhood, playing ball with his older brother, Clay.
Clay was a left-handed pitcher for Delta State before a shoulder injury helped end his career. Every offseason, Clay pitches to his brother, helping him tune up for spring training.
Clay said his advice to Brian was, “Take a few pitches at the beginning, but not too many, or you’ll get one in the back.”
Asked about Dozier’s power surge the past two years, Clay said, “I have no clue where that came from. He couldn’t get it out of the infield in high school.”
The hitters were limited to seven outs per round, down from 10 in previous years, which at least minimized the agony.
After three quick outs, Dozier drove a ball an estimated 374 feet into the left-field seats. The fans began chanting Dozier’s name and he delivered a shot into the first row of the second deck. But two line drive outs ended his night.
Morneau also began with three quick outs before crushing a home run out by the flag poles, an estimated 409 feet. He had six outs and needed one more home run to at least advance to the swing-off.
Morneau got that home run, but that was it. On this night, the 2008 derby champion was going to leave any potential fireworks to the other hitters.