Pete Alonso Adds To Power Legacy With Second Straight Home Run Derby Title
DENVER—The first time Pete Alonso competed in a home run derby, he was cheated.
Alonso’s first Home Run Derby came in the summertime Northwoods League between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Florida. Alonso, North Carolina first baseman Joe Dudek and, oddly enough, a 50-year-old Jose Canseco were the competitors. Alonso out-homered Canseco, 6-5, in their head-to head-matchup and should have advanced to the final. But because this was a summer college league, where entertainment takes precedence over math, Canseco advanced instead of Alonso.
“It was really fun,” Alonso said, “and almost kind of anticlimactic.”
That would be the last time a home run derby featuring Alonso proved anticlimactic.
Alonso won his second straight home run derby with a dominant showing at Coors Field on Monday night. He hit 74 home runs, 20 of which went at least 475 feet, and stole the show on a night when Shohei Ohtani and Joey Gallo were expected to be the headliners.
Instead, it was Alonso running away with the derby title. He hit 35 home runs in the first round, the most of any player, to put Salvador Perez in a hole the Royals catcher simply couldn’t overcome.
Juan Soto, fresh off defeating Shohei Ohtani in an epic first round, kicked off the semifinal matchup against Alonso with 15 homers. Alonso made it look like it was nothing, hitting his 16th home run with 48 seconds still remaining on the clock to eliminate Soto and return to the finals.
In the final, Orioles first baseman Trey Mancini launched 22 home runs and looked like he might be the storybook champion less than 10 months after finishing his final round of chemotherapy for colon cancer. Alonso quickly quashed such thoughts, hitting 23 home runs to beat Mancini with 31 seconds left on the clock in the bonus round. His winning blast traveled 480 feet.
“As soon as I saw 35 up there (in the first round) I’m like ‘That’s untouchable’ and that was the goal for every round,” Alonso said. “My approach was I have to be the standard. I have to be the bar. And I just wanted to make the standard incredibly untouchable so I would advance from the first round and go on from there. My gameplan was just to be as untouchable as possible and whoever I face I’m going to beat, no matter what.”
Already at 26, Alonso is building a home run legacy matched by few others. The “Polar Bear” hit the first-ever home run to center field at cavernous TD Ameritrade Field during the 2015 College World Series with Florida. He tied for the minor league lead in homers in 2018, with his final blast a walkoff shot in the final game ever played at Las Vegas’ Cashman Field. Then came his rookie-record 53 home runs during the 2019 season, interceded by his first home run derby crown in Cleveland that summer. He is now one of only three players to win back-to-back home run derbies, joining Ken Griffey Jr. and Yoenis Cespedes.
It’s not just that Alonso keeps hitting for power, but he's displaying it on the biggest stages. The College World Series. The final game ever played at a historic stadium. Major League Baseball’s premier power showcase in front of sold-out stadiums and a national television audience.
Alonso, with his immense strength, intense focus, supreme confidence and showman swagger—he spent much of the evening Monday nodding his head and singing along to his chosen playlist of Nas, Mobb Deep and The Notorious B.I.G.— is simply built for power displays on the big stage.
“If you see his focus in the cage, you can tell he wants it,” said Soto, who put on his own impressive power display with a 520-foot home run, the longest of the derby in the Statcast era. “Everything is just crazy what he’s doing. He’s just focused. He wants it a lot. “
Just as Alonso took a back seat to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for most of the 2019 home run derby before beating him in the championship, the focus was on other players early. Specifically, it was on Ohtani.
The Angels two-way magician came out too amped up and was out front on most of his initial pitches, pulling line drives foul to the right side and hitting top-spun low liners into short right field. He hit only one home run in his first 16 swings, and for the first time this season, it appeared he would fail to live up to the hype.
Of course, Ohtani is too talented to let that happen. He progressively settled in as the round progressed and found his form. Chasing Soto’s 22 home runs, he got to five homers with 1:19 left in the initial round and reached 16 by the time the buzzer sounded. He pounded out six more in bonus time, the last of which traveled 513 feet into the upper deck to tie Soto and send the Coors Field crowd into a frenzy.
The fireworks weren’t done. Soto kicked off the tiebreaker round with six home runs, and Ohtani rallied to match him once again, hitting his final two home runs 503 and 505 feet, respectively, to force a second swing off.
“I was thinking he was going to beat me,” Soto said. “He got on a really good streak. He hit like seven or eight homers in a row, and he was amazing. And every homer he hits, it’s a bomb. It’s not like a cheap homer. Every homer he hits is going out way far.
With the tension at its peak, Soto hit home runs on all three of his swings in the swing off to put Ohtani in an unfavorable position. The two-way star stepped to the plate, took the first pitch offered to him, and unleashed a swing on the next. He topped it, and the ball grounded harmlessly into right field, giving Soto the win.
Ohtani’s performance nonetheless elicited a standing ovation. He pulled himself out of a hole to force a tiebreaker not once, but twice. He hit six home runs that traveled 500 feet or longer, most of any player in the Statcast era. While most of the other rounds took place with fans sitting comfortably in their seats, the sellout crowd was almost entirely on its feet when Ohtani came to the plate.
Even in defeat, Ohtani managed to thrill.
But thrilling is not the same as winning. And when it comes to winning power displays, Alonso stands alone.
“I’m a power hitter,” Alonso said, “and I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet.”