With a $1,000,000 cash prize awarded to the winner and the youngest field in Home Run Derby history, the 2019 MLB Home Run Derby had a different energy about it than it has in the past. The energy leading up to the Derby, however, was nothing compared to the electricity felt around the nation as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Joc Pederson slugged it out in an incredible second-round battle.
By the end of the night in Cleveland, Pete Alonso was crowned champion and a new MLB Home Run Derby record had been set with 312 home runs. Guerrero and Pederson alone combined for nearly half of those 312 home runs with 151, and while neither went on to win the tournament, their head-to-head matchup will never be forgotten.
The round before the epic showdown
As the lower-seed in his first round matchup against Oakland’s Matt Chapman, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was tasked with setting the bar for his opponent by batting first. He set quite the bar, breaking Josh Hamilton’s record for the most home runs in a single round ever recorded with 29.
It would have been interesting to see how Christian Yelich, the league’s home run leader with 31 on the season, would have fared with this massive obstacle laid before him. Chapman, Yelich’s injury replacement, did what he could but fell well short of the goal with only 13 home runs, sending Guerrero Jr. through to the second round.
Guerrero Jr. entered the Home Run Derby with only eight home runs on the season in 61 games played in his rookie season. It might have been fair to doubt if the son of 2007 Home Run Derby winner Vladimir Guerrero belonged in the competition before the first round began, but this record-setting round eliminated that doubt.
Joc Pederson had appeared in the Home Run Derby once before back in 2015, advancing to the final with wins over Manny Machado and Albert Pujols before eventually losing to Todd Frazier. Pederson looked ready for another deep run in 2019 with an impressive performance in the first round, mashing 21 home runs to advance over Houston’s Alex Bregman (16).
Guerrero Jr. and Pederson begin their battle
After setting the record with 28 home runs in the first round back in 2008, Josh Hamilton ended his second round early with only four home runs. He was exhausted. An entirely reasonable feeling after so many swings in the first round.
Guerrero Jr. was not exhausted. He would not end his second round early. In fact, his second round would take an extra three tie-breakers to decide.
The rookie slugger matched the record he had just set in the previous round, crushing another 29 home runs in his four minute and 30 second window. This in and of itself would have been an awesome story.
But unlike Matt Chapman, Joc Pederson was up to the task. Home run after home run, he steadily climbed up the scoreboard before eventually matching Guerrero Jr.’s 29 home runs.
Tie-breakers would be needed
The crowd was in a frenzy. The second round would need to be decided with a tiebreaker; each player would get one minute to hit as many home runs as they could, with the player who hit more moving on to the next round.
As he had done all night, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. set the bar impossibly high, smashing eight home runs over the wall in just one minute. Again, this event should have been over. But again, Joc Pederson rose to the challenge and matched Guerrero Jr.’s performance with eight home runs in one minute of his own.
Tied at 37-37, the Home Run Derby would need to be decided by an unprecedented swing-off, with each player getting only three swings each to break to the tie. Guerrero Jr. hit one home run on his three swings. Pederson hit one home run on his. A second swing-off was needed.
Fans and players in the stands were having a blast. The Home Run Derby, which had hit a major ratings slump in 2018, was blowing up on social media and drawing in eyes from around the nation.
Guerrero Jr. hit two home runs in the three swings of his second swing-off attempt. It was finally enough. Pederson hit only one, and the two players embraced in exhaustion. The 20-year-old rookie had prevailed with a historic 40-39 victory.
Remarkably, Vlad Jr. still had something left in the tank
“I feel bad for him, he has to keep hitting,” Pederson said to ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza after the slugfest, “I’m toast.”
Somehow, Guerrero Jr. still had enough strength left to hit 22 home runs in the final round. It wasn’t enough to hold off Pete Alonso, but it was certainly enough to make his fellow rookie earn it.
With the 2019 MLB Home Run Derby in the books, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has the MLB record for the most home runs in a single round (40) and a single derby (91), two records that may stand the test of time. Joc Pederson had the MLB record for all-time home runs hit in Derby history with 99. And all of us have a baseball moment we can talk about for years to come.