-- One by one the balls rose off the bat of Bobby Abreu, climbing high through the early evening light until finally the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder's shoulders slumped, he looked exhausted. A player ran out with a drink and a towel. And still he kept launching home runs. His bat cracked. And still the ball flew.
In the 20 years they've been holding the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, there had never been a night like this. Never a night in which a player dominated the way Abreu owned this contest. He set a record with 24 home runs in the first round. He set another record with 11 in the final round, which was enough to beat Detroit's Ivan Rodriguez to win his first Home Run Derby.
Rodriguez had five in the last round.
Abreu was overpowering. He hit one ball over the right field stands and onto a plaza that leads out to the parking lot. A stadium estimate said the shot was 517 feet.
In a change this year, baseball chose eight players to represent eight countries rather than have four American Leaguers hit against four National League players. Abreu is from Venezuela and several Venezuelan players surrounded him, jumping up and down after his final round was over.
Mayor to Meet Selig
Washington Mayor Anthony Williams will be in town today to meet with Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and perhaps other owners. He is scheduled to attend several events and also to watch the All-Star Game.
His primary tasks are to push Major League Baseball for a quick decision on an owner for the Nationals and to express again his preference for the group headed by Fred Malek. When MLB agreed to move the team to Washington last winter, Selig said he hoped to have a new owner in place by this week.
"We always knew [the bid process] would be competitive," said the mayor's spokesman, Vince Morris. "There was always an expectation that it would take awhile."
He said the mayor's office has had some contact with MLB, but given that many of the dealings MLB has with prospective owners are private, Williams's visit was a chance to be closer to the process.
Nationals closer Chad Cordero seemed almost giddy as he looked around at his first all-star game. He was asked if he felt at all star-struck by the players around him. He laughed.
"I've been star-struck the entire time I've been here," he said.
On Monday morning he saw Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins and Florida Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis and ran up and shook their hands. Later he was handed a gift bag filled with T-shirts and hats and even some Motown CDs.
"It's hit me a couple of times since I got here yesterday that I'm an all-star," he said.
Cordero also admitted to bending back the brim of his cap to create the perfect level of flatness that has become his trademark. He said it was something his teammates at Cal State Fullerton used to do. Then he told the story of how all his Nationals teammates flattened the bills of their caps one night when he was pitching.
"Esteban Loaiza came up to me and said, 'Dude, we all got headaches wearing them this way.' " Cordero said.
A Leading Question
Before one of the Red Sox-Orioles games last week, Baltimore coach Elrod Hendricks pulled together each of the team's leadoff hitters, Johnny Damon and Brian Roberts -- both all-star starters -- and asked a simple question.
"Okay, who's going to lead off in the All-Star Game?"
"I told Elrod, 'Don't you know who the manager is?' " Damon said, referring to his manager with the Red Sox, Terry Francona.
Hence the problem of who would lead off for the American League was resolved. Damon will bat first and Roberts will hit ninth. Francona also approached Roberts over the weekend and told him why he made the decision.
"I did want to talk to him and make him understand this was not a slap in the face but something I thought needed to be done not only for what Johnny has done this year but for his career," Francona said. . . .
Nationals pitcher Livan Hernandez, who did not pitch in last year's All-Star Game, is tentatively scheduled to pitch one inning, probably the fourth or fifth.