Bryce Harper Wins Home Run Derby In Front Of Home Crowd
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Bryce Harper won a home run derby once before. He was 12 years old, playing at Cooperstown Dreams Park, when he won the King of Swat title during a summer tournament.
That was just an early chapter of an ascent driven by power. It was Harper’s power that drew 80 grades from evaluators on the 20-to-80 scouting scale and made him the most touted prospect of his generation. It was that power that led him to leave high school two years early, enroll in junior college, and hit a nation-leading 31 home runs with a wood bat as a 17-year-old. It was that power that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and that has carried him to big league stardom as he’s lived up to nearly impossible expectations.
And on Monday, it was that power that put Harper center stage in one of the most memorable moments ever to take place at Nationals Park.
Harper staged a stunning rally, hitting nine consecutive home runs over the final 47 seconds of the final round, to beat Kyle Schwarber 19-18 and win the 2018 Home Run Derby in front of his home crowd.
Harper, rocking an American flag arm sleeve and headband to represent the city he's made his own, Harper hit 45 home runs on the night, and when it was over called winning the Derby in front of his home crowd one of his crowning achievements.
"This is something you grow up and you want,” Harper said. "I think the past month or so, I’ve been thinking about it, and to be able to get this trophy…this is really cool. It’s one of the best I have.”
Harper trailed 18-9 in the final round when he took a timeout with one minute to go. With his father Ron on the mound pitching to him, Harper got hot when the pressure kicked up. With the home crowd at his back serenading him with chants of “Let’s Go Har-per”, Harper found his groove and began to send shot after shot into right and right-center, including the tying home on his final swing of regulation.
“Looking at my dad sitting there, one ball, one strike, one ball, one strike, and bam, hit (nine) in a row, it was like ‘Here we go, we’re rolling,’” Harper said. “We’ve talked about it in the offseason where we went to the high school field in Las Vegas and we’ve sat there and I’ve hit 14 in row on the street or something like that. I know we’ve talked about that for a long time, and we were able to do that and get (to) 18 with 30 seconds left. Wow, that was pretty awesome.”
The bonus round was all but a formality. Harper popped up the first pitch from his dad, and then promptly sent a 434-foot missile over the wall in right-center field for the win, pumping his fist and jumping out to the mound as the ball hit the back wall behind the fence. As the red-and-white clad crowd of 43,698 celebrated their hometown hero’s comeback victory, the 25-year-old saluted and celebrated, taking in a signature moment worthy of his longtime lofty status.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I think just having the crowd out there and really feeding off them. To be able to do that with my family out there, that’s an incredible moment, not only for me but also for the organization and the Nationals fans, and I’m very blessed and humbled."
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Harper’s 45 home runs on the night included shots of 467, 473 and 478 feet. He beat Freddie Freeman 13-12 in the first round and Max Muncy by an identical 13-12 total in the second round before rallying to beat Schwarber in the finals. He batted second each time, coming from behind thrice for the win.
Schwarber was the hard-luck loser. The No. 4 overall pick of the 2014 draft hit the most home runs on the night with 55, including multiple blasts into the third deck in right field. He had a sensational comeback of his own to beat Rhys Hoskins 21-20 in the second round, hitting the winner as time expired.
Schwarber’s 55 home runs are the second highest total in a single Derby, behind only Giancarlo Stanton’s 61 home run performance in 2016.
Javier Baez hit the longest home run of the night at 479 feet, but Muncy eliminated the Cubs second baseman in the first round.
Bobby Witt Jr. had an impressive comeback of his own to win the finals of the High School Home Run Derby, which took place between the first and second rounds.
Witt Jr., a shortstop from Colleyville (Texas) Heritage HS and the No. 1 prospect for the 2019 draft, won 8-7 over Rece Hinds, a shortstop from Niceville (Fla.) Senior High School.
Hinds opened with his seven home runs, including a jaw-dropping home run over the seats and on to the concourse in left field that got the crowd buzzing. But Witt Jr. promptly stepped up and put on a show of his own, tying Hinds with 26 seconds remaining and hitting the winning home run into the left-field bullpen with 14 seconds left.