SEATTLE — Baseball’s annual showcase of light-tower power is here. The finals of the 2023 MLB Home Run Derby are underway at T-Mobile Park, following the matchup everyone was waiting for: hometown hero Julio Rodríguez vs. Derby king Pete Alonso. Julio did not disappoint, shattering the single-round record with 41 homers in an electrifying performance in front of his home crowd.
In the first round, Tampa Bay Rays slugger Randy Arozarena kicked things off with 24 homers to win his matchup with Adolis Garcia. Then Adley Rutschman switch-hit his way to 27 dingers before Luis Robert Jr. topped him by one with a walk-off in their face-off. After that, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. casually hit 26 out to defeat Mookie Betts. Then came the Rodríguez-Alonso battle.
In the semifinals, Randy Arozarena put up a cool 35 to defeat No. 1 seed Luis Robert Jr. and seal his spot in the finals. Julio Rodríguez hit 20 home runs in his second appearance of the night, but Vlad Guerrero Jr. matched him before even reaching his bonus time and then walked it off.
Here’s our round-by-round breakdown, with updates, reactions and highlights from Seattle.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 25
ZC: After racking up a record round without winning the Derby in 2019, Vlad is trying the “slow and steady wins the race” approach. Randy needs to beat 25 homers in the finals to win it all.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 21, Julio Rodríguez 20
HK: Strategy take: Going first was bad for Julio’s chances. He used up so much energy hitting 40 home runs in the first round, when he needed only 22 to beat Pete.
ZC: Julio runs into trouble against Guerrero. This is going to be a fascinating social experiment as Seattle fans have to choose whom to root for in the finals.
ZC: I do enjoy the mid-round strategy sessions with other players. “What do you think guys? Should I hit more homers or fewer homers?”
HK: When they all take care of their tired friend? That’s my favorite.
Randy Arozarena 35, Luis Robert Jr. 21
HK: The crowd is definitely saving up their cheers for Julio now, resting their voices during the other rounds.
ZC: Randy Arozarena unsurprisingly was up for the fight in the semifinals, launching 35. Luis Robert Jr., meanwhile, hit the most viscerally powerful homers. Just all over the place. He clanked one off the batter’s eye in straight-away center field. This is a man so powerful he does not need to be tactical with his homer hitting.
HK: Credit to the Derby catchers for staying at all locked in on this. Have they even touched a baseball?
ZC: But it’s Arozarena headed to the finals. Get ready for some playoff Randy madness.
HK: I think I speak for everyone when I say this is the matchup we’re all here to see.
I have to admit, I was actually a little anxious that there was getting to be too much pressure on Julio in this Home Run Derby. He’s the only contestant for whom the expectations surrounding his performance have been building for a full year. He is so, so beloved in this city that even his slight sophomore slump this season has been kind of hard to watch! Mariners fans want so badly to have reason to root for him and the team.
But he just set the record for the most home runs ever hit in a single round of the Derby.
ZC: He was hitting home runs so fast that I could not watch him swing because there were too many longballs landing in the upper deck. That 41-homer round is the new single-round record, and the previous record came with tiebreakers involved.
ZC: Pete Alonso was hitting homers, but the crowd was restraining any and all excitement in solidarity with the hometown hero, which created a very strange atmosphere. The dream continues for Seattle as Pete falls well short.
HK: Pete is gonna be so sad. 🙁 That is my analysis.
ZC: The net result of the Robert-Rutschman round is that Guerrero’s 26 homers somehow feel underwhelming.
If nothing else, Mookie wins major points in Seattle for going with Ken Griffey Jr.’s backward cap look.
HK: The difference in swing violence between Guerrero and Betts is so dramatic. Guerrero was swinging out of his shoes on every one — and I was going to say something about Betts, but I noticed shortly after his round that Guerrero is wearing a back brace of some kind, and that makes so much sense. Betts’ five-tool approach to baseball was no match for Guerrero’s willingness to sacrifice his back to launch bombs.
No. 1 Luis Robert Jr. 28, No. 8 Adley Rutschman 27
ZC: The only thing that worried me about Rutschman is whether he was going to literally nail me with a home run ball out in the auxiliary press box. He came quite close. OK, then he switched to hitting right-handed and crushed the bonus round. That was impressive for a Pacific Northwest kid.
HK: I was worried about Rutschman going with the sentimental pick — his dad throwing to him — but that turned out to be a sound strategy.
Um. Wow. ← me watching the bonus 30 seconds he took from the right side. The swarms of fielding children didn’t even turn around to look at home plate. They all just faced out, watching the balls fly over their heads. Also, I think if I could somehow be brand-new to baseball as an adult, switch-hitting would be the skill that blows my mind the most. Well, maybe after what Shohei Ohtani does.
I wonder if switch-hitting is a secret to excelling at the Derby because so much of it is about battling fatigue, and being able to switch to fresh muscles (?) at some point might give you an advantage. Big Inigo Montoya saying, “I am not left-handed” while dueling vibes. Is this a reference people get?
ZC: Luis Robert … not impressed. He matches Rutschman’s total before the bonus round starts, including one homer that hit the very top row of the left-field stands here. He walks it off a couple of swings into his bonus time.
HK: Welp. Shows you what I know. Robert demonstrated that another tactic for avoiding fatigue is simply to be tireless. Also, there’s so much talk about how young Adley is, but Robert is the same age! And he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting back in 2020.
No. 5 Randy Arozarena 24, No. 4 Adolis García 16
ZC: OK, but how many homers could Randy hit in his special good-luck cowboy boots? It feels like Arozarena is only going to grow more powerful as he gets closer to the finals. The man lives for national television heroics.
HK: That’s what I was going to say! Randy flourishes as the pressure mounts — unless he gets carried away and starts to strike a pose after every single home run. He’s probably the player the most hurt by the timed format — as opposed to the “outs” version of the Derby from years ago — because his power is diminished by his not having the time to freeze with his arms crossed after every homer.
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