Déjà vu for Acuña in Derby duel with Alonso

July 19th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Hours before the 2022 T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday at Dodger Stadium, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera was asked who he planned to root for during the marquee event. Naturally, he picked his countryman, Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr.

“I have to stick with Acuña, although he has a tough draw in the first round,” Venezuela native Cabrera said in Spanish. “But he’s my preferred player.”

As Cabrera noted, Acuña had the tall task of going up against two-time defending champion Pete Alonso of the Mets in the first round. The 24-year-old Acuña came close to dispatching Alonso in the second round of the 2019 Derby at Progressive Field, though he was ultimately outslugged, 20-19, in the semifinals.

Monday proved to be a redux of their first meeting, as Acuña was once again eliminated by Alonso, 20-19, in the first round.

“Pete Alonso is a star,” Acuña said before the Derby. “We’re going to compete, we’re going to have a good time. That’s the most important part.”

Competing as the No. 7 seed, Acuña blasted 18 home runs in regulation before adding one final shot in bonus time. His longest blast traveled a Statcast-projected 472 feet and cleared the roof of the left-center field pavilion on its way out of the ballpark, putting him in exclusive company.

In 60 years of game competition at Dodger Stadium, only five players have launched a ball entirely out of the ballpark: Fernando Tatis Jr., Giancarlo Stanton, Mark McGwire, Mike Piazza and Willie Stargell (twice).

“I didn’t watch the ball because in the moment you can’t really admire it much,” said Acuña, who leads the Majors in average home run distance this year at 437 feet.  

But it wasn’t enough to dethrone Alonso, who started off slow but quickly found his groove after taking a timeout. Alonso ended regulation with 17 homers, but he cracked three in bonus time to beat Acuña and advance to the second round with time to spare.

Alonso's attempt at a third consecutive Derby title ended in the semifinals vs. outstanding Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez, but the final round went to another NL East star, Juan Soto.

While he again fell short in his second Derby appearance, Acuña said he still relished the experience, particularly since he wasn’t able to attend last year’s festivities after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. 

“It was an incredible experience,” Acuña said. “The atmosphere was unreal. It was incredible. I couldn’t be in the All-Star Game or the Home Run Derby last year. This year I was, and I enjoyed it to the fullest.”  

Another highlight for Acuña came when he was able to snap a photo in the home dugout with his favorite artist, Bad Bunny. 

“It was amazing,” Acuña said. “I went up to him and said, ‘Hey man, can we take a picture?’ And he was like, ‘Of course.’ After the picture I was like, ‘Hey man, I love you.’”