Originally created 07/11/00

Sosa launches 26 for derby win



ATLANTA -- Ken Griffey Sr. hit 14 home runs as an Atlanta Brave in 1987. That was his career high.

Ken Griffey Jr. nearly equaled that in one night of Home Run Derby, but it was not enough to extend his run as the derby champ.

That crown now belongs to Sammy Sosa, who belted nine home runs in the championship round, five coming on the second set of five outs. All told, Sosa launched five balls into the club level. He hit the Braves' 1991 National League Championship sign on the facing of the 755 Club two times, hit one over the 1997 NL East flag and one that hit the lighted scoreboard just left of straightaway center field.

All of that prompted the crowd of 50,118 fans to chant "Sam-my, Sam-my," and roar a little louder with every bomb off Mr. Sosa's bat, outdone only by the fireworks that followed his mammoth blasts in the final round.

Clearly, he felt at home away from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.

"A situation like that, when everybody's cheering and happy, you don't worry about how many you hit," said Mr. Sosa, who hit 26 big flies in all. "You just want to put on a show."

Mr. Sosa became the third Cub to win the All-Star Home Run Derby. Andre Dawson won it in 1987, and Ryne Sandberg in 1990.

Junior, who will not play in tonight's All-Star Game because of a sore knee, was left to marvel.

"I have to," he said. "I don't have that kind of power. You have to marvel when you don't have it. Some guy sitting in the second deck was eating a hot dog, and the ball hits him in the chest. He wasn't expecting it."

Braves batting-practice pitcher Alan Butts, who threw to Mr. Griffey, said he found a groove in the second round, when Junior had no homers after eight outs but hit three on four swings to make the finals.

"I could tell when the ball left my fingers that he was going to smoke it," Mr. Butts said. "Then, when Sosa was doing all that with the cheering and the music and the fireworks going off, ... he was still focused. That was awesome to watch."

The Braves' Chipper Jones, owner of the National League's single-season home run record for a switch hitter, whimpered through the first round with two, then bowed out.

"It's was the pitcher," deadpanned Mr. Jones, who was hitting against Braves first-base coach Glenn Hubbard. "It's not as easy as it looks."

Mr. Sosa, Mr. Griffey and Boston's Carl Everett hit six homers each in the first round, and Toronto's Carlos Delgado ripped five. Mr. Sosa found his groove in the semifinals, belting out 11 before settling the issue with eight in the finals.

"I came here for the last three years, and I didn't do anything," he said. "If you remember, I hit two home runs and one home run the last two years I have been here. I just came in today with a different plan and went up there and gave myself an opportunity, took some pitches and started to swing the bat and make some great contact."

The five-out finals between Mr. Sosa and Mr. Griffey were tied at two after the first five-out set, but the Cubs outfielder went yard six times in his first eight swings in the tiebreaker round.

His longest of the night was 508 feet, a passable substitute for the missing Mark McGwire, who surely would have challenged that distance had he been able to participate.

"It's a shame Mark wasn't here today," Mr. Sosa said.

Mr. Sosa didn't want to talk about contracts, or his seemingly tarnished image in Chicago, or even how many homers he hit in the derby. He just wanted to entertain. He started his post-event new conference by asking: "Hi everybody. Did you enjoy the show?"

He might as well have ended with that.