MIAMI -- Every now and again, and it doesn't happen often, the moment beats the hype. We all knew that Monday night's T-Mobile Home Run Derby was going to be great. How could it not be great? This is the year of the homer. This was Giancarlo Stanton at home in Miami. This thing had super rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger on a collision course. Absolutely, this was going to be great.
Except: It wasn't great. It was something beyond that.
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The act of hitting home runs off batting practice pitching is not what baseball is about, of course. A Home Run Derby is just a fun little game, something that undoubtedly began with kids in a backyard or a schoolyard or on a dirt field long ago. But anything, if done surpassingly well, can transcend into art.
Monday, we saw a desperate Stanton, perhaps a bit jet-lagged from his flight in from San Francisco, step into the box after his opponent, New York's Gary Sanchez, had an inspired round. Sanchez, with his big leg kick and enormous swing, cracked 17 home runs, a number that was surely out of reach.
Stanton began cold, hitting just missing his spot. "Too many popups," he moaned. Each hitter only gets four minutes, and about a third of Stanton's time was gone, and it all seemed pretty hopeless. And then he took off, smashing eight home runs in 12 swings -- five of six at one point -- lifting the Miami crowd into pandemonium. It was thrilling in a way that such games rarely are. Stanton seemed to be carrying the whole stadium on his shoulder.
Stanton's 113.9 mph average home run exit velocity was the highest of the night, and he went deep 12 times at 115 mph or harder. But the effort exhausted him. He needed two home runs in the last 30 seconds to tie, but he could only manage one. That one was a gift, though, a 488-foot rocket that made everyone stand up in awe of if eighth of at least 480 feet.
• Judge tops Sano in Derby finals
And that was just one round in this crazy thing.
In another round, Bellinger -- the fastest player in baseball history to hit 21 home runs -- needed a crazy late rush to beat Charlie Blackmon. He hit a 446-foot home run on his final swing in regulation time to earn bonus time (to earn the bonus a player had to hit two home runs of at least 440 feet in a round). Bellinger used the extra time to beat Blackmon. In all, Bellinger hit seven home runs in his last 10 swings.
And neither of those was the matchup of the night.
That matchup began when Miami's Justin Bour, a dark horse who has never hit more than 23 home runs in a season (though he has 20 home runs this year at the break), went crazy. Bour has a mathematician's understanding of the geometry of Marlins Park, and he used it to pull and yank an astounding 22 home runs. At one point, he hit seven home runs in a row.
And with 22 home runs it seemed like his opponent had no chance at all.
Only his opponent was Aaron Judge.
What's left to say about Aaron Judge? In a half season of baseball, he has shattered our illusions of what a baseball player can be. He's a 6-foot-7, 282 pound force of nature who hits home runs to places at stadiums previously unexplored. When Bour hit 22 home runs, Judge admitted he was pretty nervous.
"I just had to go to work,' he said.
It's hard to describe what the next few minutes were like. At one point, Judge hit 11 home runs a row. Eleven. With this format -- a clock constantly ticking down, a pitcher throwing the ball as quickly as he can, no time to rest between pitches -- hitting 11 consecutive home runs is unfathomable.
Judge hit what he thought was the winning home run and stepped out to relax when he was told that his home run only tied Bour. So he jumped back in the box with five seconds left, took one mighty swing, and won it again.
By the way: The reason Judge thought he won is because one of his sure home runs HIT THE ROOF and then stayed in the park.
"I was pretty tired after that round," Judge conceded.
Yeah, well, we were all tired. We were spent. That round was like watching Roy Hobbs strike out the Whammer on three pitches, like watching the Babe hit one to heal a sick child in the hospital, like watching Josh Gibson hit that ball in Pittsburgh that never came down. It was mythical.
The rest of the Derby went as it went, with Miguel Sano flashing some of his impressive power (three homers of 470 feet or longer) and with Judge doing a few more ridiculous things. There were the four home runs of more than 500 feet, and two of which (at 507 and 513 feet) are the two longest ever tracked by Statcast™ in the Derby or otherwise. And there was his final ratio of 47 homers to just 29 "outs," his total home run distance of 3.9 miles, and so on.
Judge won easily in the end, though had already won the night.
And we can leave it to Stanton, Miami's host, to wrap it all up.
"I told you it was gonna be a good one," he said. "All these guys can mash."