CLEVELAND — Carlos Santana got the loudest roar to start the night, and Vlad Guerrero Jr. had the most support throughout, but the winner of the 2019 Home Run Derby was New York Mets rookie Pete Alonso. Guerrero had the crowd in the palm of his hand with his home run heroics (he hit 91 on the night due to several second round ties), but Alonso hit 23 in the final round. He emerged victorious even though the crowd booed him through most of the night.
Saying Guerrero started strong is like saying “he’s got power” — it’s such a huge understatement when compared to reality. He hit 29 homers in the first round, breaking Josh Hamilton’s 2008 record of 28 in a single round.
VLADDY 👏 JR. 👏 BREAKING 👏 RECORDS 👏pic.twitter.com/sWHOXrDSoZ— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) July 9, 2019
Oakland’s Matt Chapman, Guerrero’s first competitor of the night, stood no chance. In his last 30 seconds, just before he topped out at 13 total homers, he looked defeated yet accepting of his fate. You can’t stop someone who was born to do this.
This wasn’t the Vladito Home Run Derby, though MLB should strongly consider doing that in 2020. Other players also belted some major dingers. Joc Pederson hammered 21 in round one, which was more than enough to beat Alex Bregman’s 16. Ronald Acuña Jr. had an excellent showing with 25 first round homers, and squeezed out Josh Bell and his 18 homers. Carlos Santana, representing Cleveland, delighted the crowd but hit just 13 homers. Pete Alonso managed to beat that just as the clock was winding down, but he heard boos as he beat the hometown hero. “Survive and advance” was Alonso’s mantra throughout the night, and it served him well.
Round two started with Guerrero, and he brought the crowd to its feet with 29 home runs, matching the record that he had set barely an hour ago. But then Pederson, who was the Derby runner-up in 2015, matched him. He hammered his 29th homer as the clock buzzed, and each player was given 60 additional seconds to break the tie.
And then they tied again.
Somehow, they both hit eight home runs in the extra 60 seconds. To break the second tie, they each got three more swings. A third tie would be inconceivable, right? Guerrero hit one with his three swings ... and so did Pederson. The first match-up of round two was tied for the third time. With three more swings, Guerrero finally out-hit Pederson and advanced to the final. He hit 40 home runs to Pederson’s 39, which is a truly mind-collapsing number of home runs.
That match-up was dramatic and thrilling, but it wasn’t the final. Acuña and Pederson squared off to see who would face Guerrero in the last round. Acuña hit 19, but Alonso beat him with another buzzer-beating home run.
Then it was on to the final. It didn’t live up to the Guerrero-Pederson second round tie-stravaganza, and the extra work Guerrero had to put in to beat Pederson is likely why. Guerrero hit 22 homers with the crowd fully behind him. Alonso, who was booed by the crowd when he was introduced for the final, hit 23 with over a minute left on the clock. Alonso emerged victorious, and that’s when the the fans in attendance finally gave him the cheers he deserved.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be booed at a Home Run Derby, to be honest,” Alonso said after the final round. “But that’s that home town home cooking. I dealt with some adversity, but we overcame. Pretty much just survive and advance.”
Alonso, whose family is from Ohio, felt blessed to compete in (and win) the Home Run Derby in front of too many family members to name. He mostly credited his victory to advice he got from his Mets teammates: conserve energy and don’t waste swings — something that Guerrero and his multiple tiebreakers wasn’t able to do.
“They were all just saying to conserve as much energy as possible between rounds, hydrate, get some electrolytes and keep the body loose,” Alonso said. “You don’t need to exert energy taking too many swings. Between the second and third round we didn’t go down and take any swings. So I feel like conserving energy was huge.”
Guerrero and Pederson’s multiple ties were the highlights of the night, but that’s what almost certainly sunk him and sapped him of his energy in the final round. Alonso will take home the $1 million prize, but he won’t keep all of it. He’s donating five percent — $50,000 — to the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization he feels connected to through his grandparents, and another five percent to Tunnel to Towers.
“Well, both of my grandpas, they served in the military,” Alonso said. “My grandpa on my mom's side was a Marine, and my grandpa on my dad's side was in the Army. One was during the Korean War time, and the other was during World War II. I feel like a really strong bond with those people who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Alonso, who has been thrust into the spotlight thanks to his fantastic rookie campaign, also said that he wants to use the platform he has to make people aware of these kinds of causes, and he hopes “other people can find the kindness in their hearts to reach out and help other people that help us.”
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