-- MINNEAPOLIS -- So was this the night the legend of Yoenis Cespedes was born? Or had that already happened, on another magical Monday night in July, 52 weeks ago?
The world may not be that familiar with this man's work the other 364 days of the year. But on Home Run Derby Monday, he becomes the human launching pad you can't take your eyes off.
A year ago, Cespedes swooped in from Oakland and devoured his first Home Run Derby, at Citi Field in New York. But his second act, at Target Field on Monday night, might have been even more eye-popping.
One minute, it looked as though he wasn't going to make it out of the first round. Next thing you know, it felt like he was going to crank another home run into somebody's second-deck luxury suite with every ferocious hack he took.
He hit only two home runs in his first eight swings of the bat. He then whomped 28 in his final 50 waves of the bat. And by the time all those space capsules had returned to Earth, Cespedes had done something only one other man had ever done:
Won two Home Run Derbies in a row.
Just the great Kenneth Griffey Jr. had ever done it before this, in 1998-99. But at the time Griffey did it, he was possibly the biggest name in his sport.
Cespedes, on the other hand, is a very different kind of story. He was an international man of mystery before he won his first Derby. He's not a whole lot less mysterious now that he's 2-for-2.
But there's one thing we know about him for sure:
The Home Run Derby is his kind of spectacle.
"Everyone talks about his ability -- his beautiful swing, his power," said his personal Derby delivery man, A's coach Mike Gallego. "But I'll tell you what, the mind over matter is incredible. He doesn't let the big stage affect him, obviously. I think he thrives on it, as a matter of fact."
Every one of those men has a special place in Derby lore in some way, shape or form. But no more special place than Cespedes. Not anymore.
The list of sluggers who have won more than one Derby, over an entire career, consists of just Griffey (three), Prince Fielder (two) and now Cespedes. But this guy is just getting started. So who knows how many more he might feel like winning? One? Two? Twelve?
You shouldn't put anything past him. You know that, right? Even noted Derby veteran Chipper Jones was conceding that Monday night when he tweeted:
Ok I'm a believer! I'm taking Cespedes to win next years Derby. First back-to-back-to-back winner ever. You heard it here first. - Chipper Jones (@RealCJ10) July 15, 2014
But it's not as if the men who play with Cespedes in Oakland needed Chipper to convince them of that. For three seasons now, they've been watching this remarkable hulkster send batting-practice home runs whooshing into parts of the Coliseum never before visited by flying baseballs. So nothing that happened Monday night surprised them in the least.
"He's got a lot of power and ability, and we all know that," A's third baseman Josh Donaldson said. "We get to see it a lot. He's a special guy, a guy we care for a lot. And when the lights get brighter, he gets better. Especially in things like this, he kind of smells blood and he goes for it."
Yeah, but eight swings into the first round Monday, it was actually his blood that the other eight Derby contestants thought they were smelling. He was the 10th and final man to bat in this extravaganza. And with one out left in his round, he'd hit just two home runs, which would have ended his night before the fun even began.
"But you know what? He didn't panic," Gallego said. "I even asked him, 'Are you OK?' And he said, 'No problem.'"
That simple. No problema. And Cespedes wasn't kidding. He lofted the next pitch into the first row of the seats in left. And the rampage had begun.
Starting with that swing of the bat, he would go 36 swings -- from that point in the first round through his 11th swing in the finals -- without ever making two "outs" in a row. It was practically Josh Hamilton-esque, minus the skyscrapers and the monuments.
He eliminated Donaldson in a "swing-off" after the first round with two lightning bolts in two swings. Then he took down Adam Jones in the next round with a nine-homer light show in which he never, at any point, went two consecutive swings without a home run.
Next, he wiped out AL captain Jose Bautista with seven more rockets into the seats in his first 10 swings of Round 3. And when NL finalist Todd Frazier tried to put the pressure on Cespedes by forcing him to hit first in the finals, Cespedes turned that pressure cooker right around on him by mashing five homers in his first eight swings, seven in his first 11 and nine in his first 14.
Asked about that brilliant strategic ploy afterward, Frazier laughed: "I thought he'd be a little tired. But he wasn't. Obviously."
As Frazier tried to keep loose in the underground batting cage, Cespedes was putting on one last fireworks show, squashing six home runs in the final round that ESPN's Home Run Tracker estimated would have traveled at least 460 feet if the stadium hadn't gotten in the way. Two would have sailed more than 500 feet.
The first was a projected 504-foot rainbow that broke up a party in a second-deck suite in deep left-center. The second was an even more ridiculous Mars probe, estimated at 509 feet, that felt as if it hung in the night for about 45 seconds before it landed in another luxury suite, two decks up in left-center and three sections over from the foul pole.
"I'm in the cage, and I hear the crowd, and I'm going, 'Well, there goes another one,'" Frazier reported, still shaking his head. "And then, 'Hold on, there's another one.' I could just hear the crowd going crazy. But that's what he does. And he did it last year. And he did it again this year. So he's the champ. That's why he's the champ."
So there, on one hand, you had the man Cespedes had just beaten, incredulous over a bunch of tape-measure home runs he'd never even seen. And on the other hand, you had Gallego, the guy who served up every one of them, still overwhelmed just by the noise those blasts make on the way by.
"You should see them from my view," Gallego said. "It's like the ball just shoots out of a cannon. I just throw it, I hear it, and then I hear the crowd cheer. I don't even watch them. I don't need to watch them. I mean, I peeked on a few. But for the most part, I just listen to them."
Asked about all those home runs Cespedes powdered into the distant left-field suites, Gallego chuckled: "They sounded real loud. I know that."
Then again, it took both the sound and fury of Cespedes to overshadow the first-round theatrics of Bautista and the man the Derby fans of America had been waiting years to watch on this stage, Giancarlo Stanton.
Bautista crushed 10 first-round homers in an incredible run of 15 swings, highlighted by two majestic blasts off the facing of the second deck. But it was Stanton who one-upped him -- with an unforgettable six-homer round that included four mammoth shots that had to be witnessed to be properly comprehended.
Stanton scrunched one ball that cleared the batter's eye and came down in the upper deck in dead center field, projected at 476 feet. And a rarefied lunar launch that landed in the seemingly unreachable third deck in left, projected at 465. And a supersonic 3-wood to dead center that was short-hopping the batter's eye about two-thirds of a second after it left the bat. And then there was his final, signature homer -- the longest home run ever hit in Target Field history, a herculean blast that came six rows from clearing the unclearable third deck in left.
ESPN's Home Run Tracker estimated that one would have traveled 510 feet if those distant seats hadn't been there to spoil the fun.
Asked if that was the longest ball he'd ever hit, Stanton quickly shook his head, "No." But when Frazier was asked whether he'd thought, when the ball left the bat, it was going to leave the stadium, he gushed: "Oh my God. Yes, I did. That was crazy. Unbelievable. They said it was projected at 510. I could have sworn it was almost 600 feet."
But as everyone around him huffed and puffed and tried to put on a show, Cespedes barely broke a sweat -- and wondered why everyone else was swinging so hard.
"I'm somebody who's very conscious of the power that I have," he said. "So I don't need to put more of a swing, or more of an effort, in order to hit a home run. I just have to look for a good pitch and put a good swing on it, and [that] usually takes care of it."
Yeah. We noticed. Amazingly, Cespedes came into this Derby with no home runs in his previous 84 at-bats. A couple of hours later, he came out of it as an all-time Derby icon. But that's what 30 sizzling home runs will do for a guy.
Asked whether he was aware that the exalted list of back-to-back Derby winners consisted of only him and Griffey, Cespedes smiled widely.
"I'm very happy and proud to be the only other person," he said through an interpreter. "I wish there was another word that would describe it even better than that."
Well, there is, actually, now that he mentions it: