DURHAM, N.C. -- Allan Dykstra truly appreciated winning the Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby, but the first order of business for the Mets prospect was finishing ahead of Francisco Pena, a teammate the past two years.
"My goal was to make sure I beat Frank," Dykstra joked after the duo squared off in the competition's finals Monday night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Dykstra, a first baseman for Las Vegas, needed just one blast to accomplish that in the finals. It came on his second swing. A year ago in an Eastern League slugging event, he didn't fare so well. He figured he was capable of a better outcome.
"I have enough power to have fun in this kind of competition," said Dykstra, who is tied for eighth place in the Pacific Coast League with 12 homers this season after belting 21 last year for Double-A Binghamton. "I only had to get one (in the last round) and I hit it pretty good."
Pena, who has 18 homers this season for the Omaha Storm Chasers, said he supported Dykstra.
"I'll cheer my teammate," he said of Dykstra. "One of us is going to win it, so have fun. … I got a little bit tired at the end."
Dykstra had support in another manner as well. He played collegiately at Wake Forest University, which is about 90 miles away, and so he drew cheers from the locals.
"It was good to represent the Demon Deacons," he said.
In the preliminary rounds, Dykstra was 0-for-6 on his first six swings before sending one out. He fouled one off his shin.
"The pressure with the first couple is pretty tough," he said.
Allan Dykstra struggled early but capped his night with a homer in the finals. (BrianFlemingPhotography.com)
Pena's eight homers and Dykstra's seven allowed them to advance to the last matchup. Dykstra, a lefty swinger, kept cranking away despite the temptation to go the opposite way toward the Blue Monster and the iconic snorting Bull in left field.
"It was suggested to me that going that way might work," he said.
Matt Hague of the Indianapolis Indians and Jesus Aguilar of the Columbus Clippers made it to the second round with totals of six and four respectively. Mike Jacobs of the Reno Aces and Mikie Mahtook of the host Durham Bulls were eliminated after the first round after failing to go deep. Mahtook was named a replacement for the competition about 19 hours earlier after Mike Hessman, the International League's career home run leader, was removed from the event because of a knee injury.
"I'm not a big home run guy," Mahtook said. "My problem was I was trying to hit it far and it wasn't going very far."
A crowd of 10,160 turned out for the event. The sluggers and others will take part in the Triple-A All-Star Game on Wednesday night.
There were some late changes to the derby lineup when Dan Johnson, who won the 2010 competition as a member of the Durham Bulls, was scratched because he was promoted from the Buffalo Bisons to Toronto late last week.
International League president Randy Mobley said Hessman notified him late Sunday night that he would have to withdraw. That came three nights after Mobley was on hand in Toledo to honor Hessman for becoming the league's all-time homer king.
Bob Sutton is a contributor to MiLB.com.