Mauer ousted in Derby's tiebreak round
After five first-round shots, Twins star homerless in swing-off
ST. LOUIS -- Joe Mauer has found his home run swing this year, connecting for a career-high 15 already with the season but half over. That swing served him well at the State Farm Home Run Derby on Monday night, but not well enough to keep that Derby trophy sitting in Minneapolis.
With defending Derby champion and teammate Justin Morneau taking a front-row seat for Monday's signature event, the Twins' All-Star catcher went deep with his first two swings of the night before a bit of overzealousness and fatigue set in and set him back. The result was just three more home runs, giving Mauer a first-round total of five.
"I got a little excited there after I got a couple on the board, trying to do too much," Mauer said. "The first couple of swings were nice and easy."
At the time, those five home runs positioned Mauer in fourth place, with Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols still waiting to hit. Pujols, the overwhelming favorite, seemed a lock to exceed that total but ended up needing back-to-back homers with nine outs just to tie Mauer and the Rays' Carlos Pena.
The three-way tie to earn the final berth in the semifinals brought on a swing-off in which each of the three hitters got five additional swings. After Pena went deep with one his five cuts, Mauer was unable to hit any of his five drives out of the ballpark, despite sending one off the 400-foot wall in straightway center.
"The ball I hit to center I thought was out," said Mauer, who donned bright yellow cleats for the night as a way support Nike's LIVESTRONG campaign. "It hit the wall, and after that one, I didn't think I was going to hit anymore. I was pretty much out of gas by then."
Mauer's Derby run officially ended there, and it would be Pujols who promptly advanced to the second round when two of his first three swings produced home runs. Milwaukee's Prince Fielder would be crowned the eventual champ, as he knocked out 17 homers in the first two rounds and six in the finals.
Mauer's longest homer traveled 458 feet to right field. In fact, all but one of his homers traveled to about the same spot near the Cardinals' bullpen, just as Mauer and his high school baseball coach and pitcher for the evening, Jim O'Neill, had planned.
"He wanted to be patient, and he wanted to hit the ball to right-center," O'Neill said afterward. "I was just trying to get the ball over the plate. I didn't want to focus on too much, so I just tried to stay around home plate."
As much of a thrill as Monday's event was for Mauer, it was that much an honor for O'Neill to be a part of the All-Star festivities. Before agreeing to participate in the Derby, Mauer had to make sure that O'Neill -- his former coach from Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minn. -- would join him. O'Neill agreed late Thursday night, and Mauer officially accepted the invite on Friday.
"It brings me down to being a kid a little bit again," said O'Neill, who had prepared for the event by throwing to Mauer back at the Metrodome on Saturday. "I'll go back on Wednesday and teach teenagers again. But to put on a Major League uniform for a day and to take part in an All-Star event, it's pretty special."
"He's still the same person," O'Neill added, "but he's on a little different playing field right now."
This was Mauer's second Home Run Derby, the first coming at the Lions' All-Star Game when he was a high-schooler in Minnesota. However, Mauer said after the event that he hopes it won't be his last. Asked if he would consider participating again, Mauer didn't hesitate.
"I would like to try and get back there and see if we can win it again," Mauer answered.
Well, under one condition: "I just have to come back in better shape."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.