When the lights shine brightest, Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes stars. In the aftermath of a second consecutive Home Run Derby crown, it's becoming abundantly clear that the 28-year-old has a flair for the dramatic.
On Monday night, Cespedes stole the show once again.
A year after taking home the crown at Citi Field, the All-Star put on a show in the final round to hold off Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier. In total, Cespedes hit 30 homers in the competition at Target Field, putting him in rare company among stars who have thrived in back-to-back seasons.
Amazingly, despite only two trips to the Derby and three total years in the majors, Cespedes is now sixth all-time in Derby blasts. The names ahead of him consist of some of the most well-known sluggers in recent baseball history: David Ortiz, Ken Griffey Jr., Prince Fielder, Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa.
As a whole, the 2014 event was, well, underwhelming. Due to format changes and a rain delay, the night was robbed of momentum for both fans and participants. Despite showing off light-tower power early in the battle, Miami Marlins outfield Giancarlo Stanton was frozen by the time the lights turned back on for him.
While Stanton and the other participants struggled at times, Cespedes soared. Although the Cuban import has been a solid, if not spectacular offensive player since arriving to the majors in 2012, the midsummer homer fest is truly where he has put his talent on display and game on the map.
Across 354 regular-season games, Cespedes has hit 63 homers and slugged .465. Over the last two Home Run Derby contests, he's hit 62 homers. Although the comparison isn't totally fair, it speaks to how much different Cespedes can be when the cameras are truly watching.
Last year, Cespedes delivered a telling quote to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark in the aftermath of the victory. When asked about pressure or living up to expectations, he cited the culture and fan passion in his home country of Cuba.
"Before I came, they asked me if I was going to be nervous because I would be participating in front of possibly 50,000 people," Cespedes said. "But when I was in Cuba, I participated in five Home Run Derbies. It wasn't 50,000 people, but it was 30,000 or 32,000. And I wasn't nervous."
Home Run Derby victories, despite the prime-time billing, truly profile as nothing more than glorified batting practice. In order to become a superstar in the majors, day-to-day excellence is needed from the Athletics' gifted specimen.
That was on display when Cespedes' eye-opening and buzzworthy throw from the outfield earlier this season became one of the highlights of the year. Amazingly, earlier in the play, Cespedes actually had a defensive miscue, but he recovered enough to make a highlight-reel play out of thin air.
With the actual season well past the halfway mark, it's clear that Oakland is heading toward meaningful September baseball and likely a third straight trip to October.
If that occurs, Cespedes can look to add to an outstanding career postseason ledger. Over the last two American League Division Series against the Detroit Tigers, Cespedes has posted a .350/.395/.525 slash line and racked up 21 total bases in 10 games.
During the broadcast, Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson spoke about how Cespedes loves to perform when people are watching. Unfortunately, that wish isn't granted on a night-to-night basis in Oakland's O.co Coliseum. Despite a gaudy 59-36 record, the A's rank just 23rd in average attendance, per ESPN.
That, along with television and media exposure, is about to change for this group in Oakland. If a magical season commences for the AL West leaders, fans will flock to the park to watch the team compete for a title and tune in around the country.
As media descend on Oakland, expect Cespedes to be there to stand up to the challenge, exude a flair for the dramatic and do what he seems to do best: play better when all eyes are on him.
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