The 2018 Homerun Derby was the most exciting one to date. I never thought I would say this but Josh Hamilton’s 2008 Derby has been topped. This Derby appeared as if it would be somewhat of a dud with guys like Jesús Aguilar and Max Muncy taking up spots for more recognized stars. This would be turned around early on. Rhys Hoskins came out firing with seventeen homers in the opening round, while Aguilar went down easy with a boring twelve homerun performance. He popped up a ton, looked just happy to be there and was eliminated in no time.
The Homerun Derby really kicked off with the second match-up in the opening round: Kyle Schwarber vs Alex Bregman. With Baez at the ESPN table calling his teammates shots, Schwarber slugged sixteen bombs and made it looked grim for the 5’10” 190 lb Bregman, but he did not look intimidated. Watching his team react reminded me of why I loved the derby growing up, and why this is such a fun event. Garrett Cole was Bregman’s biggest fan while Verlander was Instagram Live recording his teammate. Bregman was hitting line drive rockets on his way to 15 homeruns, falling one homer short. It came down to the wire with his last two hits being warning track shots. While it was devastating to watch, the derby kept on rolling.
Next came Javier Baez vs Max Muncy. Baez is a proven electric factory who was made for a flashy competition like the Home Run Derby. After some bad tosses from his older brother they started connecting for six homers before calling a time-out with 1:58 remaining. He finished strong and with the overtime ended up with sixteen homers. Then Max Muncy came up and became his own story. While he was putting balls in the seats the announcers shared his story of how he was released by the Athletics and had to wait for a high school team to finish up each day just to get in the cage. His Dad rebuilt his confidence, who months later would be throwing to his son again, but this time in D.C. for the 2018 Homerun Derby, a slight upgrade over a high school batting cage. Muncy would win seventeen-sixteen on a walk-off homer with 32 seconds on the clock.
From then on, all eyes were on Bryce Harper who made the event his derby from round one throughout. It started with an underwhelming performance by Freddie Freeman who was only able to put twelve balls over the fence. Harper then showed off his power by smoking thirteen in the clouds with 26 seconds left on the clock. He finished with a walk-off blast as he did in each round of his epic run. Harper’s shots looked different than everyone else’s, it was a special day for him and the crowd behind him.
Harper moved on to face underdog Max Muncy, who impressed in round one to edge out Baez. Muncy did not have the same gas he had in round one, putting up only twelve homers in round two. Harper would then have the task of walking-off again. While thirteen homers seemed like a foregone conclusion, Bryce struggled early, adding to the legacy of this derby for years to come. Harper went deep just three times in the first 1:30 before catching fire and hitting five straight out of the park. Bryce got to ten before taking a time-out with 1:33 remaining. The next three would come easy and he would walk it off yet again with 1:11 left on the clock.
The final round would come down to slugger Kyle Schwarber vs Hometown Hopeful Bryce Harper. Schwarber went first and mashed eighteen homers to put the crowd on edge. Harper was faced with adversity and came out flat, hitting only four dingers before calling a time-out with 2:38 remaining. This led to debatably Bryce Harper’s biggest moment in a Washington Nationals uniform. The crowd was behind him loud, supporting Harper as much as they ever have. He came out of the break on a mission and rallied to get five homers with 50 seconds left on the clock. Harper would then mash nine homeruns in only 47 seconds to tie Schwarber at eighteen. Then came the 30 second bonus where Harper would bash his derby winning nineteenth homerun and bat flip to victory. Bryce then turned to the crowd as the entire stadium erupted. With Harper mic’d up, you hear him celebrating with his father who threw to him and struggled in the final round before they connected on seemingly every pitch.
Harper was quick to acknowledge his father, coaches, teammates and everyone around him. He was momentarily a child winning a little league baseball game where it felt like nothing else mattered but that one victory. The general public is mixed on Bryce Harper, but I love that man and real baseball fans do too. People who genuinely love baseball and want the sport to maintain relevance should get behind Harper because like him or not, he is great for baseball.
Here is Harper’s epic comeback to tie it:
Scott Neville – Head Baseball Writer – WTF Sports