Delivering a Derby Darling in David Wright

There's this great video on MLB.com offering the running commentary of Jose Reyes from the bench as David Wright swung away in the Home Run Derby preceding the 2006 MLB All-Star Game at PNC Park.

It opens with Reyes rubbing Wright's shoulders, reassuring the young Mets third baseman that "we got this" before comically massaging the shoulder of Paul Lo Duca. Reyes shouts at every ball, providing the sizzle and swagger that the stoic Wright seemed incapable of delivering to such a marquee event.

"You don't have to worry about me getting a big head from all of the attention I've been getting from the media and fans in recent weeks," wrote Wright on his short-lived blog preceding his departure to Pittsburgh. And why should he? He was a two-year veteran and first-time All-Star who'd never hit more than 27 home runs in a season.

He wasn't a masher. Not yet anyway.

16. That's how many home runs Wright had hit to open the festivities on July 10, 2006 at an average of 431 feet per wallop. Wright kept mashing ball after ball into the left field stands, some of which he clearly didn't hit squarely but had hit with so much force that there was little doubt about the ball's fate.

"Also expected to participate are David Wright of the New York Mets" and Wright's confirmation that he would participate if invited were the only words written about his participation by MLB.com's Jim Molony as the writer projected a Home Run Derby showcase between Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox. Wright had led all third basemen in home runs at the break, but that didn't merit mentioning.

"I just hope he doesn’t get a goose egg," Matthew Wright had said to The Viriginan-Pilot about his own brother's chances on derby day.

He wasn't supposed to hit 16. That wasn't in the script. Leaving the charismatic Reyes speechless wasn't part of the plan.

As the first two rounds of the Home Run Derby would be combined to determine the championship-round participants (2006 was the first derby to include that rule), Wright's lofty total was already enough to put him through to the derby finals without taking another swing. None of the other eliminated derby contestants had hit more than 15 in two rounds. And with Wright adding two more to his tally in round two, no one had hit more than his 18 homers (Howard would tie him with eight in the first round and 10 in the semifinals).

Unfortunately, the long delays inherent in every derby and the large output from the first round had gassed the Mets' third baseman.

"I was unconscious in the beginning," Wright said to MLB.com's Tom Singer after the derby. "Then we had the break, and I cooled off. I was brought back down to earth. I wish I would've had all my 30 outs in that first round. I might still be hitting."

It should be noted that "gassed" wasn't the same as "spent" for Wright. He mashed four more home runs in the final round, including a 461-foot moonshot that was his longest of the night. He'd hit a total of 22 home runs that night.

And Howard hit 23. The Phillies first baseman hit five in the final round, including a 463-foot blast that would represent the longest of the night.

So Wright lost the 2006 Home Run Derby. But he'd won a new reputation as a true-blue Major League power threat. That's the reputation that made everyone believe in the Home Run Derby curse that had plagued Bobby Abreu in 2005 and seemingly no one else. In one night, Wright's 20 home runs in the first half had morphed for a pleasant surprise to a bare-minimum expectation, despite the fact that Wright had statistically hit out of his mind in the first half and would later prove to be a more effective second-half hitter.

Mets fans already knew Wright had it in him. Now, a national baseball audience had seen for themselves.

David Wright had arrived.

He kept his rates fairly constant except for a bump in ground balls at the expense of his fly balls and picked up his sweet stroke where 2006 left off in the next two seasons. He didn't monkey with his swing or start striking out at the rates we've seen since Matt Cain plunked him in the coconut with a 2009 fastball.

Wright just came up a home run short on that night in Pittsburgh. His August slump made for a nice subplot while his team ran roughshod over the National League. That latter point is the one that always mattered more, and his short-lived home run troubles were just one of those things that happens in baseball if a player hangs around long enough.

"It's all right," Wright said moments after the marquee star of the soon-to-be-hated Phillies was crowned as the 2006 Home Run Derby champ. "It's a little disappointing, but Ryan Howard can have the Home Run Derby if the Mets can have the National League East."

It seemed like a fair trade at the time, even if meant dropping the first of many painful losses to the Phillies in the ensuing seasons.

That Monday was just one of those nights where a hitter comes up a hit short but still leaves a superstar.

Like I said, fair trade.

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