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Slammin’ Sosa wins HR derby

Slugger came to put on a show — and he does

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ATLANTA — Sammy Sosa finally has a home-run title.

Just not THAT home-run title.

Sosa, edged by Mark McGwire the past two years for the single-season record and major league lead, ended Ken Griffey Jr.'s two-year reign as Home Run Derby champion, hitting the longest, loudest and largest number of shots at Turner Field on Monday night.

The Chicago Cubs star, at the center of what he described "as a hurricane happening to me the last month," beat Griffey 9-2 in the finals and hit 26 overall, 14 more than any other player.

He got the fans standing and shouting with a pair of 508-foot shots — one to the 755 Club in the left-field upper deck and one that came to rest atop the second green batter's backdrop in straightaway center, below the scoreboard.

"I came here to put on a show. I didn't necessarily come here to get the win, but I guess I got the win," Sosa said.

Sosa, at the center of what he said has been "a hurricane happening to me the last month," was angry the Cubs wouldn't extend his contract, set to expire after next season, and asked them to trade him.

After talks with the New York Yankees fell through, Sosa's agents told the Cubs on Sunday that he doesn't want to be traded and would use his rights as a veteran to block any deal.

"I don't want to talk about a contract right now because I want to wait until the year's over and relax," Sosa said. "Whatever happens from there, happens. I would love to stay in Chicago. This is the city I want to stay with. But if it doesn't work out, you know, if I have to go, I don't have a choice."

With injuries to Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez, there wasn't nearly the drama of last year, when Griffey won, but McGwire conquered the Green Monster at Fenway Park, with hundreds of fans filling Lansdowne Street to catch the balls.

Before Monday's competition, scalpers were dumping tickets with $50 face value for $10 each.

"Mark McGwire is one of the guys everybody is looking at," Sosa said. "Because he was not here today, I came here to represent him."

What started off as a listless, humid night sparked up immediately when Sosa started swinging. No other player totaled more than 12.

"Sammy made it look easy," said Griffey, who has won the derby three times overall. "When people in the first couple of rows of the upper deck are looking up, that's power. I didn't hear oohs and aahs for my wallscrapers. I heard them for Sammy's upper-deck shots."

Sosa, who lost out to McGwire 70-66 for the home-record record two years ago and 65-63 for last year's title, made flashbulbs sparkle and fireworks explode in the night.

In the semifinals, Sosa beat Boston's Carl Everett 11-6 and Griffey topped Toronto's Carlos Delgado 2-1.

Griffey and Sosa tied 2-2 in the first round of the finals, which was split into two rounds with each player allowed five non-homer swings each.

Sosa, practicing his swing in the runway between rounds, then went ahead with a 429-foot homer to left, took a pitch, and connected on four straight swings — hard, long shots of 476, 488, 477 and 443 feet. He added two mores, at 460 feet and 508, while fans in the crowd of 50,118 stood clapping, chanting his name and bowing, much like the Wrigley Field bleacher bums pay homage to him back home in Chicago.

After Sosa finished, he high-fived Griffey and both players hugged.

Sosa thanked his pitcher, Chino Cadahia, the Atlanta Braves' minor league field coordinator.

"He used to be my manager when I was in the minor leagues in Texas (Gastonia in 1987). He knows where I like the ball," Sosa said. "He was throwing me some cookies today. I have to thank him for that."

Griffey, who won titles in 1994 at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, 1998 at Denver's Coors Field and last year, then failed to homer in five straight swings.

Last year, Sosa bombed out at Fenway, hitting just one home run.

"I came here the last three years and I didn't do anything," he said. "I came here today with a different plan. I went up there trying to give myself an opportunity. I took a few pitches."