Polar Bear Pete! Alonso wins Home Run Derby
Mets slugger defeats Vlad Jr. in finals to win $1 million grand prize
CLEVELAND -- Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s prodigious power kept Progressive Field buzzing during Monday night’s T-Mobile Home Run Derby. Yet when all was said and done, it was Pete Alonso raising the trophy.
Alonso outslugged Guerrero in a memorable final round, hitting 23 home runs to edge his fellow rookie by one homer. Alonso became the second rookie ever to win the event, joining Aaron Judge of the Yankees, who won in 2017.
Alonso’s total of 57 homers was the third most ever hit in a Derby, and although that was 34 fewer than Guerrero, he beat him when it counted.
“It's survive and advance,” Alonso said. “You've got to go in with kind of a killer instinct. It doesn't matter how many you hit; you just need to have one more than the guy you're facing.”
“I got tired, but that’s not why I lost,” Guerrero said. “There are no excuses. He hit more home runs than me and he won.”
Alonso became the first Mets player to win the Home Run Derby outright; Darryl Strawberry shared the title with Wally Joyner in 1986.
Alonso took home $1 million for winning the Derby, and he had pledged that he would donate 5% of his winnings to the Wounded Warrior Project and another 5% to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation if he emerged victorious.
“I respect anyone who puts their life on the line every single day, going to work knowing that they may have to make the ultimate sacrifices,” Alonso said. “There are people that are making sacrifices every single day abroad keeping us free and then there are people at home keeping us safe.”
While Joc Pederson (21), Guerrero (29) and Ronald Acuña Jr. (25) all put on power displays to advance past the first round, Carlos Santana hit 13 home runs in his round, meaning Alonso could become the final player to advance to the semifinals without hitting even 15 homers.
As he stepped to the plate, Alonso was greeted by a chorus of boos from the Cleveland crowd, which wanted to see Santana follow Bryce Harper as a hometown Derby winner.
“I didn't think I'd ever be booed at a Home Run Derby, to be honest with you,” Alonso said. “But I guess that's the hometown home cooking.”
Alonso’s round didn’t start well, but he found his groove over the final 90 seconds of his four minutes of regulation time, launching his final homer over the wall to eliminate Santana. He had earned 30 seconds of bonus time thanks to a pair of early shots that traveled 440 feet or farther, but the extra session wasn’t needed.
After the first round, Alonso and Derek Morgan -- Alonso’s second cousin and Derby pitcher -- huddled up to discuss any adjustments that needed to be made.
“The first round we got the jitters out,” Alonso said. “I think we figured it out after the first timeout in that first round. But just stayed positive and keep grinding and surviving.”
The Mets' slugger got to sit back and enjoy the show for a while as Guerrero and Pederson engaged in an epic semifinal showdown. Guerrero matched his own record from the first round with 29 more homers, but Pederson matched him, forcing a one-minute slug-off.
Each hitter belted eight homers during the extra session, forcing a three-swing tiebreaker. That ended in a tie, too, but Guerrero hit two homers during the second three-swing playoff, finally outlasting Pederson, 40-39.
“That was elite hitting,” Alonso said. “That was some of the best rounds of BP I've ever watched. I think that was even better than the Josh Hamilton round, because both of them going back and forth, and clawing back the way that Joc did, he had his work cut out for him. But the way he came back, that's just mental fortitude right there. That was a hell of a shot. I don't know if we're ever going to see that again. That was special.”
Acuna hit 18 home runs in his four-minute semifinal round, tacking on one more during his 30-second bonus time. That set a higher bar for Alonso to clear than he had in the opening round, needing 20 to move on to face Guerrero in the finals.
For the second consecutive round, Alonso got off to a slow start, hitting four homers in the first minute and just three more by the halfway point. He called his timeout with 1:49 remaining and just eight homers on the board, needing 11 more to match Acuna.
Again, Alonso had accrued 30 seconds of bonus time, giving him 2:19 to hit those 11 homers. He went on a streak during the final minute, launching balls to all fields, including the deepest part of Progressive Field in dead center.
He tied Acuna with less than 10 seconds remaining on the clock, and as Morgan fired one last pitch before time expired, Alonso did it again, clobbering a round-clinching home run at the buzzer. It was his second “walk-off” home run of the night, a 453-foot blast over the trees in center field.
“I'm just happy that I didn't need the extra time, because that's extra swings,” Alonso said. “That could have possibly carried over into the next round. So I'm happy that I was able to conserve as much energy throughout the event, and that was huge.”
That set up a showdown with Guerrero, who had already hit a total of 69 home runs in his first two rounds, establishing new Derby records each time.
The effects of all those swings showed early in Guerrero’s final round, as he struggled to get his bat going. But a pair of well-timed breaks -- hitters get two timeouts in the finals -- helped Guerrero post another strong round, swatting 20 homers during his four minutes of regulation. He added another two in his bonus time, with his 22 homers giving him a ridiculous total of 91 for the night.
“I couldn't imagine three rounds of that,” said Alex Bregman, who fell to Pederson, 21-16, in the first round. “I was gassed after two minutes of it.”
Alonso had his work cut out for him, but the Mets' rookie proved to be up to the challenge.
Alonso hit eight homers before taking his first timeout at the 2:47 mark, ripping off 10 more blasts before using his second break with 1:02 remaining, pumping his arms to try revving up the crowd. A quick huddle and water break with Mets teammate Jeff McNeil proved to be the pep talk Alonso needed for his final run.
“I told him he doesn’t need to try and pull the ball,” McNeil said. “Just stay middle. We talked about that. He may have gotten a little pull-happy. He hit some bombs.”
Again, he had already earned the 30 seconds of bonus time thanks to his prodigious power, but Alonso hit five homers over the final minute, crushing No. 23 with 18 seconds left on the clock to beat Guerrero and earn the title as he threw his bat in the air to celebrate.
“Everybody did such an amazing job just going out there and showing their stuff and showcasing young talent in the game,” Alonso said. “I thought it was awesome. Everyone went out there and put on a show. I got some time to kind of sit back and soak it all in and watch some guys hit some moonshots. It was fun. It was fun to be a part of. And to be a part of this, this is surreal.”