ATLANTA - Mark McGwire wasn't around last night to steal Sammy Sosa's thunder. The storm clouds belonged to him. And for a few hours, so did Turner Field, which barely could contain him.
McGwire had to bow out of tonight's All-Star Game and its festivities because of tendinitis in his knee. That left Sosa as the biggest challenger to Ken Griffey in the Home Run Derby. That left Sosa as the player who caused baseballs to sore and jaws to drop.
Unlike last year, when he exited in the first round with only one homer, Sosa didn't disappoint. He hit the longest, two rockets that measured 508 feet each. And he hit the most, defeating Griffey, 9-2, in the final.
Sosa finished with 26 homers in the three rounds. One checked in at 496 feet. If Sosa couldn't reach the seats in the second deck, he smacked the facing of it.
And the Chicago Cubs want to trade this guy?
"That's why baseball is so great. You can never give up, no matter what's happening," Sosa said.
"I know I've got some people behind me."
Griffey was among them. He never did catch up, hitting only two in the last round after totaling nine heading into the final.
Griffey participated last night despite a sore right knee. Usually, it's a twisted arm.
In past summers, Griffey practically had to be dragged onto the field. A reluctant entry - he once complained of fatigue from a cross-country flight - Griffey won the event the past two years.
Griffey apparently had no qualms about trying to defend his title last night, an oddity considering his built-in excuse. He wasn't cleared to play in tonight's All-Star Game because of the injury. Some baseball officials grumbled that he could have at least made a token appearance, even for one inning, but Griffey said the knee only bothered him when running.
Health wouldn't decide the home run contest, though. Sosa did.
He put on the type of power display that would have made McGwire proud. Of his 11 homers in the second round, two were measured at 486 feet, another at 484. But it was a 508-foot bomb just below the scoreboard in center that broke open the place
Fans began chanting, "Sammy, Sammy." Even the Boston Red Sox's Carl Everett, paired against Sosa, stood and applauded.
Everett, whose 12 homers overall were second to Sosa, didn't stand a chance and seemed to know it before stepping into the box. He hit six balls out and took a seat with the other All-Stars.
"He brought his 'A' game right there," Everett said. "I'm still impressed by that power. That's a tough act to follow."
Griffey almost didn't make it past the second round. Needing only two homers to dispose of the Toronto Blue Jays' Carlos Delgado, he missed on his first seven tries before clearing the fence in right. After another out, he hit two more to advance.
The last round was divided into two segments. Both players hit two homers in the first segment before Sosa went off in the second. He connected seven times, with one going 508 feet into the second deck. Griffey embraced Sosa before his turn, apparently knowing the outcome had been decided.
First round: Sosa, Cubs, 6; Everett, Red Sox, 6; Griffey, Reds, 6; Delgado, Blue Jays, 5; Guerrero, Expos, 2; Jones, Braves, 2; Martinez, Mariners, 2; Rodriguez, Rangers, 1 Second round: Sosa def. Everett, 11-6; Griffey def. Delgado, 3-1. Final: Sosa def. Griffey, 9-2. RAWNAME:z2093221_23-31-02.txt