SAN DIEGO — When it was over, when Giancarlo Stanton took his final swing and the crowd roared one last time, he used his last bit of might to thrust his bat into the air.
His face said it all: half celebration, half exhaustion. He looked like what you figure a man who had just hit 61 homers in about two hours would look like. Like a man who had accomplished the baseball version of Joey Chestnut stuffing 70 hot dogs in his mouth.
He was the Home Run Derby king, beating Todd Frazier, last year’s champion, in the finals, 20-13. Stanton hit a whopping 24 homers in the first round, another 17 in the semi finals and, in the end, accounted for 30 percent of the homers hit in the annual MLB Home Run Derby on Monday night at Petco Park.
This was power and endurance and even a little bit of destiny. It was historic, an instant classic, with Stanton’s 61 homers easily eclipsing Bobby Abreu’s Home Run Derby record of 41 in 2005. Stanton isn’t even on the All-Star team after a slumpy first half. He flew out to San Diego just for the derby, his mission singular.
“Taking the flight out here just for this,” Stanton said afterward, his trophy sitting on the table in front of him. “I figure it’s a waste if I don’t bring this bad boy home.”
This might the most “duh”-inducing match of competitor and event in sports. It’s almost silly to think that before Monday night Stanton had never won the derby. He’s built a resume in his seven years in the game as baseball’s most ferocious slugger, the man capable of hitting balls out of ballparks they hardly ever leave.
Yet in his previous derby appearance, Stanton hit just six homers, including a homer-less third round that eliminated him. That sure didn’t happen this time. It was the Stanton show from the start. From batting practice, even, when he hit one to top of the Western Metal Supply Co. building in left field.
While many of his competitors were hitting dingers into the rows of seats just beyond the Petco Park wall, Stanton launched his to the second deck and beyond. He hit 20 of the 21 longest homers of the night and swept the top eight. His longest, 497 feet.
Total HR feet by player
— Daren Willman (@darenw) July 12, 2016
That upper level of seats in left field at Petco was being littered with home-run balls — and the fans up there couldn’t be happier. They chased them like ’90s kids are chasing Pokémon these days.
“The guy has superhuman power,” said Homar Hernandez, who was sitting in front-row seats. “I don’t know where he got it from. I’m just lucky enough to be able to grab [a ball] from him. I literally ran out of my seat. I literally did this, man.”
Then he jumped out of his seat again, pivoted like an outfielder and mimicked a back-handed grab.
“On the fly,” he said. “It was a good feeling.”
A few seats over, Jay Hegi showed off the two Stanton homers he grabbed — one on the fly, one on a rebound.
“He’s hitting bombs,” Hegi said. “A lot of ‘em are going over our heads.”
Hegi came from Long Island for the derby. He’d been to a few — at Citi Field, at Kauffman Stadium, at AT&T Park — but had never left with a ball. Turns out when Stanton’s hitting, the odds go up quite a bit.
— Marcus Vanderberg (@marcowill) July 12, 2016
The Home Run Derby, like the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest, doesn’t always attract the best of the best. Some players don’t want to do it, afraid it’s going to ruin their swing for the second half of the season. Some are afraid to hurt themselves. Others have too much to lose with a poor performance.
So what happened with Stanton was like the NBA’s best dunker entering the dunk contest and giving the public exactly what it dreamed about. Stanton was happy to give the people the show.
“I grew up watching this,” he said. “That’s where you built it up, childhood memories. Now I will have kids saying the same thing. They watched me do this. I like to return the favor.”
The derby wasn’t even over 15 minutes before the oh-so-obvious question was asked. Will he defend the title in 2017?
“Next year it’s at home,” Stanton said, referring to Marlins Park in Miami. “So I mean, pretty good chance.”
Baseball fans, you might want to set the DVR right now. As he proved, Giancarlo Stanton in the Home Run Derby is a show you don’t want to miss.
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