Aaron Judge Adds To Legend With Home Run Derby Title
MIAMI—The next chapter in the legend of Aaron Judge has been written.
The Yankees rookie who bested Joe DiMaggio’s team record for home runs by a rookie in half a season, the man with the 97.2 mph average exit velocity, the man in contention for the Triple Crown in the American League, on Monday night put on a show that rivaled everything he had already done in his sensational half-season.
Judge took the Home Run Derby and made it his own personal highlight show, blasting 47 home runs and accounting for every home run more than 500 feet in the event to win the title at Marlins Park. He finished off his night with an 11-10 victory over Miguel Sano in the finals, adding yet another accolade to his growing collection.
“The adrenaline was pumping a little bit,” Judge said. “I tried to use the whole field and just square up every ball I could. Since there was a clock on there, you can't really take pitches and pick one out. If it's away, I try to drive it to right. If it's middle in, try to hit the glass out (in left field).”
Judge seized the derby in the first round and never let it go. He hit 23 home runs to stun Justin Bour after the Marlins first baseman opened with 22. Judge’s output included a 501-foot skyscraper that sailed over the 74-foot high sculpture in center field, another shot that hit the roof but didn’t count, and an opposite field blast into the second deck in right-center to tie it in the final seconds. After hitting another in bonus time to dispatch Bour, he went to work on Cody Bellinger in the semifinals.
Bellinger opened with 14, but Judge made up the deficit with ease. He quickly got up to speed, belting home runs that went 504 and 513 feet on back-to-back swings to fuel his comeback. His home run to beat Bellinger and advance to the finals went 507 feet.
The finals were a mere formality. After Sano hit 10, Judge homered on his first three swings, tied Sano with 2:16 remaining, and finished it with a home run into the upper deck in center field with a full minute and 53 seconds to go.
“He’s special. I don’t know how to put words on it,” said Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon, who was eliminated in the first round. “It’s incredible that a human made balls go that far with just a stick.”
The final statistics were jaw-dropping. Sixteen blasts of at least 115 mph. Four that traveled 500 feet. Another 12 that traveled at least 450, per Statcast.
Even for Judge, it was something he struggled to put into words.
“513?” he asked when informed he had hit one that many feet. “I got nothing. I got nothing for that.”
Judge had experience winning a Home Run Derby before. As a sophomore at Fresno State he won the 2012 College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.
Even that was a little different, though. That night in Omaha he hit 16 home runs in three rounds, using a metal bat, in front of 22,403 people, and it was aired on tape delay four days later.
In Miami on Monday, he was surrounded by 37,072 fans with millions more watching live on national television.
“There were a lot more fans,” Judge said. “It was about the same other ways though. You’re adrenaline is pumping. You're nervous. You're excited. But this was an incredible experience.”
Judge wasn’t alone in lifting titanic blasts into the night.
Defending champion Giancarlo Stanton put on a show for the hometown crowd in the first round, launching a series of mesmerizing blasts to the deepest parts of the park—including a 496-foot blast high off the glass at the back of the stadium in left-center—but a slow start doomed him.
After Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez opened their head-to-head matchup with 17 home runs, Stanton was forced to play catchup. And at only four home runs with 2:31 to go, Stanton fell into a hole too deep to climb out of.
He made it exciting, finding his stroke and catching fire out of a timeout with most of his longest blasts to cut his deficit to 17-16 in the bonus round and whip the crowd into frenzy, but he popped up the final pitch as time expired.
Stanton hit eight home runs of at least 480 feet and 12 home runs at least 115 mph off the bat, per Statcast, and yet found himself on the sidelines after round one.
Stanton’s surge was just part of an exhilarating first round. Sano sweated out an 11-10 win over Mike Moustakas when Moustakas charged back but came up short on his swings in the final seconds. Bellinger walked off on Blackmon with a bomb into the second deck in bonus time. And of course, Judge capped it with his 23 home-run barrage to topple Bour, the start of a special night for the rookie whose legend just keeps on building.
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“I had no pressure going into it,” Judge said. “I'm a rookie. This is my first time doing it. For me I got no expectations. I'm just going to go in there and have some fun and see what we can do tonight. It was a blast. I enjoyed every minute of it.”