With no Yankees in this year’s Home Run Derby, especially following up on Aaron Judge’s monster showing in 2017, it was with some reluctance to tune in to tonight’s festivities. With no “horse in the race”, it was actually a lot easier to pick my favorites in each round. As with every year, the players go to great lengths to prove why they deserved to be in the Home Run Derby. But this year, some players decided to break records to do so.
A quick reminder: The Home Run Derby is set-up into brackets (like the college football playoffs), placing a pair of players to face off per round and the winners advancing to pair off with each other. Eight players down to four, to the final two, until there’s a winner that will walk away with that trophy and $1million in prize money.
Round 1 was actually fairly usual for the Derby, and each pair facing off was mostly well-matched, with a single exception. Joc Pederson (Dodgers) started the Derby off with 21 home runs over the 16 hit by Alex Bregman (Astros). Vladimir Guerrero Jr (Blue Jays) broke records for Round 1, with a power show of 29 homers over the Derby’s last-minute replacement Matt Chapman (Athletics) with just 13. Ronald Acuna Jr hit 25 to defeat Josh Bell’s (Pirates) 18. And the 14 runs by Pete Alonso (Mets) edged out home town hero Carlos Santana (Indians), who fell short at 13.
But it was the semi-finals round that left everyone talking. 20-year-old rookie (and potential Rookie of the Year) Vladimir Guerrero Jr faced off against Joc Pederson. It was like a never-ending game of “HORSE” — Guerrero would hit a ridiculous amount of runs, Pederson would tie it up at the last minute, and they’d go into overtime. Three times. After the initial time, they went into a 30 second extra time, and then two rounds of 3-swings baseball. In the end, Pederson only hit 1 of his last 3 swings, falling short of the young power-hitter 40-39. And yes, that was another record set in the Home Run Derby.
The other pair had Pete Alonso getting a last-minute extra run over Ronald Acuna Jr to advance to the finals with 20-19. After the show in the previous pairing, this one seemed rather mundane. And because Alonso hadn’t endeared himself to the crowd by defeating their own star player, there was mixed response to Alonso’s entire journey tonight.
Both players are rookies this year, but that young enthusiasm was just oozing out tonight. However, they were both exhausted by the time they hit in the final round, which showed as both hit more potential doubles than home runs in all the contact they made. After Guerrero set an impressive standard with 22 homers, a few short of what much of his cheering crowd was hoping for, Alonso came in and hit his 23rd home run in the last few seconds of his time. It was almost as if Alonso needed the push to challenge him to go further.
At the end of it, it was Florida-native and Mets’ rookie first baseman Pete Alonso (and potential NL Rookie of the Year) hoisted the trophy at the end of the night, accepting the million dollar prize money with some of it earmarked for charities like Wounded Warrior Project and Tunnels to Towers.
It is worth noting that Vladimir Guerrero Jr is the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr. Senior played mostly for the Expos and Angels, was a 9-time All-Star, the 2004 AL MVP, and 8-time Silver Slugger before retiring in 2014 and elected to the Hall of Famer in 2018 with 92.9% of the vote. He also participated in 2 Home Run Derby competitions — 2000 and 2007. He won the 2007 Derby, making Senior and Junior the only father and son duo to ever both be Home Run Derby champions, though partly because of the newer format, Junior crushed 91 total runs compared to his father’s 19.
It was certainly an event that left everyone talking. Something baseball fans, regardless of team loyalties, will reminisce about for years to come. It can only mean good things for the coming All-Star Game tomorrow night, but it also means that people are certainly enjoying their time in Cleveland, a city that certainly needs the boost.