CLEVELAND – The Blue Jays’ Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson shared a long embrace after a first-to-40 home run contest for the ages.
After a four-minute round, a 90-second round and two best-of-three-swing rounds, Pederson topped one into the outfield. Guerrero won 40-39 – and that was the second-round matchup everyone will remember from the most enjoyable Home Run Derby in recent memory at Progressive Field on Monday.
“It was special,” Mets first baseman Pete Alonso said. “There are so many guys that put on a show. Like Joc, he was amazing. Vladdy did such a good job. Everybody. I don’t want to leave anybody out.”
Count Polar Bear Pete among the entertainers.
While the Guerrero-Pederson slugfest stole the show, it was Alonso who walked away the champion. He won the 2019 Home Run Derby without needing extra time and out-dueled Guerrero Jr. 23-22 in the final round of a thrilling spectacle that proved the format right. Alonso nailed it, too.
This was special. We didn’t say best or most iconic Home Run Derby of all time, because we shouldn’t have to and that’s prisoner-of-the-moment thinking. But for one night, the event, which has been tweaked and re-tweaked to combat desensitization – showcased the game’s young talent from start to finish in real time. It was fun. A lot of fun.
There would be no talk of too many home runs in 2019. Guerrero hit 91 home runs in three rounds. Pederson added 60. Alonso finished with 57. All told, the eight contestants finished with 312 homers.
Guerrero started the show with the most home runs in a single round with a 29-homer first-round barrage that proved the wisdom of having the 20-year-old in the derby. That broke the record set by the Rangers’ Josh Hamilton, who hit 28 in the first round (under a different format) at Yankee Stadium in 2008.
The sluggers set the tone early. Peterson hit 21 homers in the first round. Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. followed with 25 homers in the first round. Later, Alonso knocked out Cleveland hometown hero Carlos Santana at the last second.
“I didn’t think I’d ever be booed at a Home Run Derby, but I guess that’s the hometown cooking,” Alonso said. “We dealt with some adversity and we overcame, but it was pretty much survive and advance. That’s it.”
It was more than that. There was no better example than the showdown between Guerrero Jr. and Pederson. Cheers for Guerrero Jr. with each blast, including a 488-foot shot that rivaled the fabled Mark McGwire shot at Progressive Field that hit the left-field scoreboard. When Guerrero Jr. beat out Pederson, who tied the round in the last second twice, it put this derby in a special class.
“That was up there with – I think that was even better than the Josh Hamilton round because both of them were going back and forth and back and forth,” Alonso said. “That was a hell of a show. I don’t know if we’re ever going to see that again.”
Justin Morneau won that Home Run Derby with Hamilton in 2008, but Alonso was more than a footnote in this show. He knocked out Acuña in the last second and trailed Guerrero Jr. by three with 1:02 left on the clock. He wouldn’t need the whole time to finish the job. Alonso finished the Home Run Derby with 18 seconds left on the clock and flipped his bat in the air with a celebration that ended the show.
This one will have a place in derby lore with Hamilton. It might not be more iconic as three-time winner Ken Griffey Jr.’s hat-backwards performance in 1994 or better than the Griffey-McGwire duel at Fenway Park in 1999.
It’s still special, and it was an undeniable this one belongs on this short list for years to come. Perhaps we’ll see it again next year given the young talent involved.
“Everybody did such an amazing job just kind of going out there showing their stuff and showcasing the young talent in the game,” Alonso said. “I thought that was awesome. Everyone went out there and put on a show and I thought it was entertaining to watch.”
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