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Home Run Derby: Nationals’ Juan Soto tops Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez

LOS ANGELES ― Juan Soto saved his best for last.

The Washington Nationals designated hitter defeated Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez to win the Home Run Derby on Monday night at Dodger Stadium, turning the annual slugfest into a showcase for two of baseball’s bright young stars.

The 23-year-old Soto, who was competing in the Derby for the second time, had nine homers in the final minute of regulation in the two-minute final. He added four more in bonus time, his clinching blast coming with 19 seconds remaining. He threw his bat way in the air after the deciding shot cleared the fence, his 53rd of the competition. The 21-year-old Rodriguez hit 81 home runs across the three Derby rounds, a record, only to fall short in the end.

For Soto – pelted with questions in the afternoon about rejecting a $440 million, 15-year contract offer from the Nationals – the day served as a validation of his preternatural talents.

“I’m a lone survivor,” he said of his long day at the ballpark. “I’m still here standing up. That shows you I can go through anything.”

The first Derby ever hosted at Dodger Stadium featured a convergence of storylines and a barrage of homers. There was Rodriguez, who advanced to the final round by eliminating two-time defending Derby champion Pete Alonso of the New York Mets, 31-23.

 


PHOTOS: Check out all the images from the All-Star Home Run Derby and all of its storylines.


Only four players had hit 30 homers in a single Derby round before this year, according to MLB. Rodriguez did so twice Tuesday, becoming the first player with multiple 30-homer rounds in a single Derby.

“I think his overall skill set is extremely special, like his ability to play Gold Glove-type defense and be able to beat you a lot of different ways,” Alonso said of Rodriguez. “His power is phenomenal. As he gets older and gets more experience in the big leagues, he’s going to be able to tap into that. And you’re going to have an unbelievable ballplayer in your hands, which he already is. He’s an All-Star. But I think he has MVP-type talent.”

There was also a metaphorical passing of the baton from one generation of stars to the next. After sixth-seeded Rodriguez eliminated second-seeded Alonso, fourth-seeded Soto advanced to the final by eliminating eighth-seeded Albert Pujols in their semifinal matchup.

Pujols, 42, surprisingly upended top-seeded Kyle Schwarber, the National League home run leader, in their first-round duel. The St. Louis Cardinals’ designated hitter hit 15 home runs in the semifinals; Soto hit his 16th with time to spare.

“It shows you what generation we have coming up soon,” said Soto, who also hit the Derby’s longest home run at 482 feet.

Rodriguez electrified the crowd by hitting 32 home runs in the first round, highlighted by a 463-foot blast that landed high up the left field bleachers. He received a rousing round of applause before ceding center stage to Texas Rangers shortstop Corey Seager. The former Dodger fell short, hitting 24 home runs.

Up next was seventh-seeded Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., the last batter to hit with daylight in the batter’s box. He hit 19 home runs. Alonso batted next and hit 20. One landed in the upper-left corner of the batter’s eye in dead center field, calculated at 480 feet from home plate by Statcast.

Fifth-seeded Cleveland Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez batted next and hit 17 home runs. Soto hit 18 home runs with a minute to spare, then flipped his bat in celebration.

Pujols was up next. Before his 30 seconds of bonus time kicked in, All-Stars from both leagues jogged over from their respective base lines to form a circle around the 42-year-old Pujols, who announced he will retire at year’s end. He finished the round with 13 homers.

Schwarber was up next. He mustered 13 home runs too. Tied, Pujols and Schwarber headed to a one-minute swing-off, which Pujols won by hitting seven home runs to Schwarber’s six.

The smattering of ground balls from Schwarber did little to diminish the crowd’s joy for Pujols. With much of the sold-out crowd on its feet, Schwarber embraced Pujols, who was competing in his sixth Derby.



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