Decades from now, you’ll be hard-pressed to recall that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was actually not the official winner of the 2019 Home Run Derby.
Monday night’s showcase at Progressive Field in Cleveland will go down as the night the 20-year-old Toronto Blue Jays phenom took the baseball world by storm — his official coming-out party.
That’s of course no slight against champion Pete Alonso — first baseman for the New York Mets — who outlasted Guerrero in the final and is on his own path to stardom. By the way, Alonso earned more money for his Home Run Derby participation than his 2019 salary. Think about that for a minute.
Guerrero, one of the most-hyped prospects in recent history because of his father and his talent, hit 91 home runs in the Derby, the new mark for homers in one event. He had the longest dinger of the night — a 488-foot blast that just about touched the scoreboard in left field.
In the first round, Guerrero’s 29 longballs set the record for most in a single round. He would then proceed to tie that record all of 30 minutes later in the semifinal.
That round was a show of its own. Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson matched Guerrero’s 29. In a minute-long tiebreaker, they both hit eight. In a three-swing double-tiebreaker, they each hit two. In the triple-tiebreaker, Guerrero finally prevailed, going long on his first two swings. Pederson only managed one.
The crowd in Cleveland got behind Guerrero in full force, erupting every time the ball met his bat. It was quickly evident that if hometown hero Carlos Santana wasn’t going to win, they’d be rooting for the kid.
That round not only captivated the fans, but had all the other All-Stars watching in awe from the sidelines.
“That was elite hitting. That was some of the best rounds of batting practice I’ve ever seen — better than the Josh Hamilton round in 2008,” Alonso said of the Guerrero-Pederson duel. “I don’t know if we’ll ever see that again.”
Said Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, who was knocked out in the first round, “I think the whole Vlad-Joc showdown took the cake for me tonight. You wanted more tiebreakers.”
Guerrero has long been touted as an almost superhuman hitter, but he has endured growing pains during his first season in the majors — just like any young player would. He’s batting .249 in 225 at-bats for the Blue Jays, only a slight drop-off from the .381 average he posted in the minors in 2018.
And that brought us to this Home Run Derby.
Some were critical of the league’s decision to include Guerrero in the first place, considering he has just eight home runs on the season. It turns out the powers-that-be knew exactly what they were doing.
Playing in Toronto, Guerrero hadn’t quite gotten as much attention as we anticipated since his big-league debut in April. But all that changed Monday.
Under the bright lights, on national television, the Derby was a stage meant for a transcendent talent like Guerrero. And man, did he deliver.
It’s funny that Alonso mentioned Hamilton’s 2008 Derby. Lost in the annals of history is the fact that Hamilton actually lost out to Justin Morneau in the final.
And like Hamilton introducing himself to America at Yankee Stadium all those years ago, Guerrero finished as the runner-up — but unquestionably the star born out of the night.