Despite making the trip out to the West Coast, it was not a Hollywood ending for Philadelphia Phillies‘ slugger Kyle Schwarber in the 2022 MLB Home Run Derby. Schwarber, the first seed in the tournament, fell to veteran and eight seed Albert Pujols in the first round.
Meanwhile, Juan Soto claimed his first Home Run Derby crown, defeating Julio Rodriguez 19-18 in the final round. Soto’s victory is the fourth-straight year in which a National League East slugger went home with the crown, following Pete Alonso (2021, 2019) and Bryce Harper (2018).
The Return of the Schwarbomb
Kyle Schwarber made his return to the Home Run Derby following a second-place finish in 2018. After defeating Alex Bregman in the first round, Schwarber defeated future teammate Rhys Hoskins in the semifinals before facing the hometown hero in the final round. Oh, did I mention the All-Star Game was hosted by the Nationals that year? Yup, Kyle Schwarber lost to Bryce Harper 19-18, hitting 55 home runs on the night overall.
Kyle Schwarber enters the All-Star Break with a National League-leading 29 home runs on the year. Since June 1st, Schwarber has hit 18 home runs, earning NL Player of the Month honors. In order to make his return to the final round, Kyle Schwarber first had to battle against future Hall-of-Famer Albert Pujols. Pujols, the active home run leader with 685 career dingers, is in the midst of his retirement tour as he is set to hang up the cleats at the end of the season.
Round One Around the Horn
Seattle Mariners’ rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez opened up the first round in big fashion, slugging 32 home runs to defeat former Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager 32-24. Next, Pete Alonso took down Ronald Acuna Jr. 21-19.
Juan Soto, fresh off his rejecting of the Nationals’ 15-year, $440 million contract offer, then dismantled Jose Ramirez, Guardian of Cleveland, 18-17 in walk-off fashion, not even needing his bonus time as he hit home run No. 18 as time expired, bat flipping his way into the semifinals.
Round One: Kyle Schwarber Vs. Albert Pujols
Pujols, the 42-year-old legend, showed his age early on, only hitting one home run in his first minute before calling a timeout. After grabbing an event-sponsor Gatorade for a drink, Pujols did pick up the pace for the final two-thirds of regulation, hitting nine home runs for 10 overall. Before his bonus time, Pujols was surrounded by the rest of the derby participants in a moving round of applause as the newer generation of sluggers saluted the future Hall-of-Famer. Having missed the extra bonus time, Pujols stepped up for his final 30 seconds, adding three home runs to end with 13 overall.
As the legend stepped aside, Phillies’ slugger Kyle Schwarber stepped up to the plate, looking to secure his ticket to the semifinals.
Kyle Schwarber jumped out to a quick start, hitting five of his first seven pitches for home runs. Schwarber then quickly found a cold stretch, only owning seven home runs before taking his time out with just over a minute left in regulation. The slugger earned his extra 30 seconds of bonus time, ending regulation with 10 home runs. In the final 30 seconds, Schwarber began to find his rhythm, hitting his 13th with 10 seconds remaining. On the final pitch, he barely came short as Kyle Schwarber and Albert Pujols were set for a swing-off.
In the swing-off, both players get 60 seconds of additional time. Pujols then stepped up and, as if the entire performance was scripted, went on a tear, connecting for seven home runs to take a 20-13 lead. Schwarber stepped up to the plate, hitting several ground balls before finally connecting on five in a row, but it would be too little, too late, as Kyle Schwarber fell to Albert Pujols 20-19.
Rodriguez, a 21-year-old, had to hit the best round of his life against Alonso in the semifinals. 31 home runs later, Rodriguez passed the ball over to Alonso as the challenge was set. Alonso struggled to find a groove at the plate, hitting only 18 home runs in regulation. Alonso, the two-time champion, was unable to recover as he dropped his semifinal match to Rodriguez 31-23.
Pujols hit 12 home runs in regulation time, adding three in bonus time to post 15 overall. Soto, 19 years younger than Pujols, stepped up, seeking to put an end to the slugger’s victory lap. Soto started with eight straight misses, tallying six home runs in the first 90 seconds. Soto began to connect in the second half, ending regulation with 13 home runs and one minute of bonus time to hit three home runs and advance to the finals. Soto ended the contest in the first 30 seconds of bonus time, taking down Pujols 16-15.
The Finals: J-Rod versus the Childish Bambino
The rookie sensation versus the pending free agent. The 2022 Home Run Derby will go down in history as the first to take place between two players age 23 or younger.
With two minutes on the clock for the final round, Rodriguez finally slowed down on the night, hitting a still impressive 14 home runs in regulation, missing the additional 30 seconds of bonus time. In his pre-allotted 30 seconds of bonus time, J-Rod added four home runs, ending the final round with 18.
Then came Soto. Having already claimed two matchups on the day as the lower seed, Soto had the opportunity to add a Home Run Derby title to his Nationals trophy case before likely being traded away in the next two weeks.
It took Soto 45 seconds to hit his first home run, quickly going on a four-hit streak to find his groove. Soto hit home run number 10 with 30 seconds remaining, having earned the full minute of extra time. At the end of regulation, Soto recorded 15 home runs. Needing only four home runs in a minute to secure the Derby championship, Soto quickly secured the title as the Derby crown remains in the National League East for the fourth consecutive year.
The last time a Washington Nationals slugger won the Home Run Derby, Bryce Harper left the Nationals to join the Phillies. Now, four years later, could Juan Soto join former teammates Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber in Philadelphia? Only time may tell, but Soto’s Derby performance might just be the last good thing he does in a Nationals’ uniform.