Red Sox

Harper wins HR Derby over Schwarber in thrilling fashion

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Harper wins HR Derby over Schwarber in thrilling fashion

WASHINGTON -- The ball cleared the center field wall, and the sellout crowd roared. Bryce Harper threw his bat in the air, thrust both index fingers skyward and yelled with delight as a shower of streamers rained upon the crowd of 43,698.

It could have been a scene from a playoff game. That it was merely the All-Star Home Run Derby mattered not to Harper or the Washington Nationals fans, who were thrilled to see their hometown hero deliver the night's final longball Monday.

In the midst of it all - and in the middle of trying season - Harper grabbed the microphone and said: "This crowd: Wow! Washington Nationals, baby!"

With an exceptional display of power and clutch hitting, Harper rallied in the final round, connecting on pitches from his father to beat Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs 19-18.

Harper hit the contest-winning blast in extra time, the reward for hitting two homers at least 440 feet during the 4 minutes of regulation. After he connected with the game winner, the Nationals star immediately went into celebration mode.

"We have some of the best fans in all of baseball, and to be able to that with my family out there, that's an incredible moment, not only for me but for the organization and the Nationals fans," Harper said.

Harper's teammate, Max Scherzer, the NL starter on Tuesday night, also appreciated the moment.

"It's awesome. Hometown," Scherzer said. "The crowd is behind him. He found some rhythm, kept it simple and just continued to hit home run after home run."

Wearing a headband that resembled the District of Columbia flag and displaying a right sleeve with stars and stripes, Harper trailed 18-9 with 1:20 left before rallying. He homered on nine of his last 10 swings before entering extra time.

The six-time All-Star arranged to have his dad, Ron, pitch to him in the annual contest on the eve of the All-Star Game. That made the victory even sweeter.

"I'm only as good as my BP guy," Harper said with a grin.

Hours before the session, Harper spoke excitedly about having his dad pitch to him in the contest. The 25-year-old said his father "worked his tail off every single day to provide for me and my family" and "now being able to have him throw to me in a big league ballpark is the cherry on top."

Afterward, Ron Harper said of his son: "He did great. So I'm really proud of him. He's a great kid. You couldn't ask for anything better."

It's been a tough year for Harper, who's hitting only .214 for the disappointing Nationals. He won a contest that many sluggers avoid, fearful it might wear them out and throw them off.

He can only hope this helps him get back into the swing.

The 2015 NL MVP beat Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves and Max Muncy of the Dodgers before trumping the fifth-seeded Schwarber, who put the pressure on with a solid outing before Harper stepped to the plate.

"As soon as I got done with that round I told myself that (Harper) had it," Schwarber said. "I knew that he had the home crowd behind him."

Harper, who has 23 home runs this season, advanced to the final with an astonishing spree of longball hitting. He trailed Max Muncy of the Dodgers 12-4 with 2:20 left, then peeled off six homers in 47 seconds before calling a timeout.

Harper returned to hit three more home runs in 22 seconds, the last of them inside the right-field foul pole.

The semifinal matchup between Schwarber and Philadelphia's Rhys Hoskins went down to the final swing. After stunning top-seed Jesus Aguilar of Milwaukee in the opening round, the eighth-seeded Hoskins ripped 20 long balls to put the pressure on Schwarber.

Using a late surge, Schwarber pulled one ball after another over the right field wall to squeeze out a 21-20 victory - by far the highest-scoring matchup of the night.

The fans dutifully cheered most home runs during the first round, but they saved their loudest cheers for Harper, the last player to step to the plate.

After Freeman hit 12 home runs over the 4-minute span, Harper unleashed six shots of at least 440 feet and secured the victory with a drive to center long before the clock expired. As the ball cleared the wall, the left-handed hitting Harper walked out of the batter's box and thrust both arms in the air.

Milwaukee's Aguilar, the NL home run leader at the break, was eliminated in the opening round by Hoskins 17-12.

Aguilar hit too many balls to straightaway center, where the wall stands over 400 feet from the plate. Hoskins pumped most of his drives into the left-field seats, where it's 336 feet down the line.

The most thrilling first-round match featured a near buzzer-beater by Houston's Alex Bregman, who fell to Schwarber 16-15. The difference was the pair of homers that Schwarber hit during 30 seconds of extra time.

Bregman - the lone AL representative - appeared defeated with a minute left, but he mounted a late surge and lost when his final swing produced a drive that landed at the base of the center-field wall.

Muncy advanced by defeating No. 6 seed Javier Baez of the Cubs, 16-15. Baez hit the longest shot of the Derby, a 479-footer.

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Is Curt Schilling "on his way" to Hall of Fame? Bob Costas makes case

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Is Curt Schilling "on his way" to Hall of Fame? Bob Costas makes case

The clock on Curt Schilling's Baseball Hall of Fame candidacy ticked closer to midnight Tuesday.

While Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina all made the cut for 2019, Schilling received 60.9 percent of votes, well short of the 75 percent threshold needed to reach the Hall.

It's Schilling's seventh year on the ballot, which means he has just three more years of eligibility. But Tuesday's results suggest the former Boston Red Sox pitcher should make it as soon as next year.

That's what Bob Costas believes. The MLB Network analyst long has supported Schilling's candidacy and made this definitive statement Tuesday night, via Boston.com:

"Curt Schilling took a significant jump. He should have been in on the first ballot. The other considerations are not relevant. Curt Schilling is on his way to the Hall of Fame."

Schilling's politics and poor business decisions have earned him plenty of criticism. But his baseball résumé holds up: six All-Star appearances, three World Series titles and a career 3.46 ERA over 20 MLB seasons spent mostly with the Philadelphia Phillies, Arizona Diamondbacks and Red Sox.

If you compare those numbers with Mussina's -- five All-Star nods, zero World Series titles and a 3.68 career ERA over 18 MLB seasons -- Schilling certainly seems worthy.

But let's forget stats for a second to look at Hall of Fame voter trends.

Schilling has seen a 15.9 percent increase in votes over the last three years: from 45.0 percent in 2017 to 51.2 percent in 2018 to 60.9 this season.

Here's how many votes Mussina and Martinez (the two non-first-ballot Hall of Famers in the 2019 class) received in the previous three seasons, followed by the votes they received this year:

Mussina:
43.0 percent in 2016
51.8 percent in 2017
63.5 percent in 2018
76.7 percent in 2019

Martinez:
43.4 percent in 2016
58.6 percent in 2017
70.4 percent in 2018
85.4 percent in 2019

Schilling is pretty much right on the same track as Mussina (albeit a year behind), and if he continues that trend should receive right around 75 percent of votes in 2020. Considering he was the leading vote-getter among non-Hall of Famers this year, it seems very likely Schilling becomes the 12th Red Sox player to earn a place in Cooperstown.

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Does Edgar Martinez's Hall of Fame election boost David Ortiz's HOF chances?

Does Edgar Martinez's Hall of Fame election boost David Ortiz's HOF chances?

A Hall of Fame class that features the first player who was primarily a designated hitter to be elected could bode well for David Ortiz's Hall chances when he's eligible in 2022.

Edgar Martinez is the first true DH to be elected to the Hall. His election was announced Tuesday as part of a class of 2019 that features the first-ever unanimously elected player in Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Joining them in Cooperstown this summer will be two starting pitchers, Mike Mussina and the late Roy Halladay. Each received more than the 75 percent of votes necessary for enshrinement. 

They'll join closer Lee Smith and outfielder/DH Harold Baines, whose election by the Today's Game Committee was announced in December.

Martinez was elected in his final year on the writers' ballot. He set the standard as a DH to the point where the annual award recognizing the best at the position is now named for him. 

"Martinez's 2019 election will help to justify that of Ortiz, though not necessarily on the first ballot," wrote Sports Illustrated's Jay Jaffe. 

Ortiz's resume includes 541 career home runs - the most for a DH - and his postseason exploits as the linchpin to three Red Sox World Series titles. He has a PED connection - he reportedly failed the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test. Still, in 2016, commissioner Rob Manfred basically disavowed the veracity of the survey testing.

As for another PED connected ex-Red Sox great, Roger Clemens was named on 59.5 percent of the ballots from Baseball Writers of America voters, 68 votes shy of the 75 percent needed for election. Clemens percentage has continued to rise each year, going from 35.4 percent in 2014 to 57.3 last year. 

Ex-Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling also fell shy of election, receiving 60.9 percent of the vote in his sixth year on the ballot. 

An outspoken conservative and supporter of President Donald Trump, Schilling received the president's backing in a tweet on Sunday. 

Schilling congratulated those elected Tuesday in a tweet. 

Outfielder/DH Manny Ramirez, who failed multiple PED tests after leaving the Red Sox, received 22 percent of the vote in his third year on the ballot. Ex-Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe, infielder Kevin Youkilis, and outfielder Jayson Bay, traded for Manny Ramirez in 2008, were not on any ballots in their first year of eligibility. 
 

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