I may have lost a follower or two with my incessant rambling and allotment of tweets, but that Home Run Derby was probably the most exciting thing I’ve seen this month and I couldn’t help but be expressive.
This was the most anticipated Home Run Derby since 1999, when Mark McGwire cracked moonshots over the Green Monster, across Lansdowne Street and on to the Mass Pike. Names like the Fenway favorite Nomar, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, and Larry Walker were also included in the star-studded event. Not to mention the man with the sweetest swing in the game ever won the event in Boston that year, Ken Griffey Jr.
Everything leading up to this event spelled perfection: two rookies, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, are numbers one and two respectively on the home run list with both emerging to be top contenders for the MVP at the end of the year. It’s unheard of for a rookie win the award and as the season goes on, they continue to improve and make their claim for the title.
Giancarlo Stanton, last year’s champion, had to defend his crown on his home turf at Marlins Park. The seasoned veteran and slugger was placed in a field of young stars and had to compete with them. People doubted whether or not he could, not because of the rookies hitting home runs, but the fact that today’s generation of MLB players is younger, faster, stronger, and more groomed to take the league by storm in the next couple years.
But every round last night displayed and drew some level of interest one way or another. Every contestant had a great opportunity to try and win and advance further thanks to the new rules of the Derby.
First Round: 4 Mike Moustakas vs. 5 Miguel Sano
I remember watching a documentary years ago about Sano in my 11th grade Spanish class. The Twins’ third baseman is from the Dominican Republic and the documentary was about how strict signing and recruiting for baseball players in Central and South American countries is.
Ballplayer: Pelotero, narrated by John Leguizamo, followed the lives of two Dominican baseball prospects, one being Sano. Sano faced issues when the league suspected him of lying about his age. He had the look of a 20 year old and wrote that he was 16. Usually, players in southern countries are signed to a maximum $5 million contract by the age of 16. The league went on a witch hunt, doing various, intense background checks to find documentation that he was who he said he was. The league ended the investigation finding nothing.
So I was very surprised that he was there. It was amazing to see how far he had come, rising up the ranks in the Twins’ organization and the entire league in general.
By the end of the round, Royals’ Mike Moustakas was so close to taking the win. Sano had put up 11 home runs to start off, leaving Moustakas to try and beat it. He came within one home run of tying it in the last thirty seconds and couldn’t hit one that could find its way over the fence. He choked, plain and simple.
First Round: 1 Giancarlo Stanton vs. 8 Gary Sanchez
Sanchez took the plate first to blast 17 home runs, shocking considering he was facing last year’s event’s champion.
Stanton didn’t look in form, however, come time for him to start hitting. Within the first minute and a half, he only had four home runs. You’d think he’d find a zone with this being his event. He took his timeout very early to regain his composure. It seemed to help out because he started clobbering ball after ball (five in a row at one point) to come within two home runs of tying Sanchez. Some of them were the longest of the night before Judge came up.
Unfortunately, Stanton couldn’t outmatch him. The champ had been dethroned by the Baby Bomber, El Kraken. Many thought it would come between Judge and Stanton, the matchup everybody was waiting for. But it was Judge’s young, teammate to take him down. Who woulda thought? I guess it’s possible for an eight seed to take down a number one seed.
Also, is Logan Morrison still talking now or? No? That’s what I thought.
First Round: 3 Cody Bellinger vs. 6 Charlie Blackmon
This season, the Rockies have had a breakout season behind surprising breakout star, Charlie Blackmon, who brought himself into the top-10 list for league home runs. He hit a strong 14 homers in his first round matchup before Bellinger was able to take his swings.
Bellinger was looking to cruise right past him until the very end of the round; he had only hit one 440 foot home run and needed another one to get the 30 second bonus time. Sure enough, he got it with one second left on the clock. With the best luck in the world, the young Dodgers rookie then had an easy time hitting a couple more to beat Blackmon.
First Round: 2 Aaron Judge vs. 7 Justin Bour
Aaron Judge had been hyped up all throughout the media coverage. During batting practice, the All-Star nominees took to the field to shag fly balls and watched as Judge left them speechless. He even hit the ceiling at one point.
But Justin Bour? 1. I had no idea he could hit. 2. He gave Judge a run for his money.
Bour hit 22 home runs in his first round swings, the most of any participant up until that point. During his timeout, his teammate and fellow participant Stanton supplied him with a doughnut, you know, for a little extra sugar-intensified energy. Then he still continued to lash out.
As a Yankee fan, I was worried; Judge had some competition and a high bar to reach. Thank god he loves competition. 23 home runs looked effortless to him, and the fact that some went over 500 feet was an added bonus.
Semifinals: 8 Gary Sanchez vs. 5 Miguel Sano
The way Sanchez was hitting in the first round failed to translate over to his semifinal bout against Sano. He only managed 10 home runs, making it easy for Sano to take the round and advance to the finals.
It was a valiant effort and would’ve been interesting to see Judge against his fellow Baby Bomber teammate, but alas we were denied such a fantasy.
Semifinals: 3 Cody Bellinger vs. 2 Aaron Judge
Everyone wanted to see this matchup as well. Both Judge and Bellinger are arguably the best rookies the game of baseball has seen in the past couple years. Both are in contention for MVP, an accomplishment unheard of for a rookie to reach. Here they are now, leading both their teams in major offensive statistical categories and leading the league in home runs. They’re performing better than some of the seasoned veterans today. So it surely made for an interesting competition.
After Bellinger set the margin at 12 home runs, he was put on the panel alongside Mark Teixeira and Tim Kurkjian to commentate while Judge tried to surpass him. This was how ESPN wanted to happen: Judge beat him, but the station wanted to let the audience at home watch and hear Bellinger react to losing. Storybook set of events.
Championship: 5 Miguel Sano vs. 2 Aaron Judge
This was it, the big moment everyone around baseball was waiting for: Judge competing to be crowned the Home Run Derby Champion. The people in the stands were booing him in the beginning during introductions only to watch in awe as he defied gravity with his custom-made, Miami-themed bat sending balls into orbit.
The one thing I noticed, however, was the pitcher throwing to Sano in the first half of the championship. Maybe his arm was getting tired, but he was throwing junk at him. Inside, outside, top of the strike zone… his pitches were going everywhere, giving Sano hardly anything to hit. That may have very well ruined his chances at putting up a good number for Judge to compete against.
Judge wanted him to hit more. He left the batting cage down in the depths of the dugout early to watch Sano and cheer him on. He wanted him to hit more. Like I said, he loves the sense of competition.
Big Cat from Barstool Sports was sitting in the left field stands and tweeted out during Judge’s final round that he had hit one to the ceiling where it bounced around in the rafters for a little bit, came down, and still went over the wall.
Like taking candy from a baby, Judge made it look easy and took the throne to become the first rookie ever to win the event.
This is what baseball is need of: young, bright, and exciting stars to bring in a new wave of sensational athleticism that even the least likely of baseball fans can get behind. I’ve said Aaron Judge’s name a lot in this post, but he’s one, if not, the leader in this smashing generation that will bring the game further into the future to compete in a tough American sports market dominated by football and basketball.
Baseball needs these young stars, and Monday night was simply a showcase for them to realize that.