- Bryce Harper put on quite a finish to come out as the Home Run Derby champion in his own ballpark.
Simply put, Bryce Harper put on an awesome display at Nationals Park Monday evening. He edged Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber in the final seconds of the championship round to claim the Derby title in front of his home fans in Washington D.C.
Our experts, Jon Tayler and Emma Baccellieri, delivered insight and commentary throughout the competition. Relive the epic competition through our live blog below.
PARTING THOUGHTS: IF ONLY FOR ONE NIGHT THIS SEASON, WE SAW BRYCE HARPER AT HIS BEST
Emma Baccellieri: Okay, yes, the Home Run Derby officially doesn't mean anything at all. But Bryce Harper being crowned champion with a thrilling come-from-behind final round, on his home field, after the season he's had? It sure feels meaningful, if only symbolically. Over the last two weeks, Harper's been gradually pulling out of his recent slump, but he still hasn't looked quite like himself. But tonight (nine home runs in 47 seconds!) saw Harper looking exactly like what he can be at his best, complete with cathartic fist pumps and a sweet bandana and a celebratory bat flip. Given the setting and his first-half performance, the spotlight was always going to be on him tonight—but he shone so brightly that you couldn't have missed him, anyhow.
Jon Tayler: Beyond the joy of Harper winning this in dramatic fashion, tonight’s Derby proved once again that MLB absolutely nailed it with the format change. You could feel the way the energy shift in the crowd when we hit the one-minute mark in every round, or when guys started ripping homers in bunches. Harper’s winning charge wouldn’t have been half as fun or exciting if it hadn’t come as close to the wire as it did. Against all odds, an event that before frequently lapsed into long stretches of boring pop-ups or exhausted sluggers winning with single-digit totals in the last round has become the league’s must-see event during the break, and a better time than the All-Star Game itself. All hail the new Home Run Derby, and long may it live.
10:25 P.M.: WITH A THRILLING LAST GASP, BRYCE HARPER WINS THE DERBY
Jon Tayler: Walking to the plate to some bizarre club remix of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Bryce Harper needed 19 homers to down Schwarber and claim the Home Run Derby crown. It took him 30 seconds to get a homer on the board, though, and his first minute resulted in only a trio of dingers. With just four homers to his name after 90 seconds of hitting, he took his first timeout. The crowd tried to will him back into it with a big cheer as he returned to the plate, and though he looked to get into a groove with three homers in a row just after the two-minute mark, he wasn’t able to build on that burst, calling his second timeout with 1:20 remaining and half of Schwarber’s total.
Things looked grim as one more loud ovation greeted him when he stepped back in, but Harper rewarded the fans by turning up the power at the last minute, blasting nine homers in the final 47 seconds to tie Schwarber. Thanks to the 30-second bonus for distance, all he needed was one homer to claim the title. He didn’t disappoint, blasting the winner to right-center on his second pitch of the extra round, then tossing his bat in celebration, for his first ever Home Run Derby win.
10:12 P.M.: SCHWARBER SMASHES 18 IN FINAL ROUND
Emma Baccellieri: For a little bit here, it looked like Kyle Schwarber might make the finals relatively easy for home-team hero Bryce Harper. After he hit his ninth dinger with 2:22 remaining, he didn't hit another one for nearly a full minute. But when he found a groove again, he really found it. Schwarber cleared the fence on five pitches in a row, including one absolutely ridiculous moonshot, which set him up for 16 dingers in regulation. He added two more in bonus time for a total of 18. Harper, then, has his work cut out for him—though he also has the power of this crowd, who started getting pumped as soon as Schwarber left the batter's box.
10:00 P.M.: BRYCE HARPER COASTS INTO FINAL, ELIMINATING MAX MUNCY
Jon Tayler: Standing between Bryce Harper and the final round of the Home Run Derby: Max Muncy, who probably didn’t imagine a year ago that he’d be taking BP swings in front of thousands of fans at the Midsummer Classic. It was an uneven start to his second round: At one point, he laced three homers in a row, but at the halfway point, he’d gone deep just seven times. He used his timeout with 1:50 to go, but he was unable to pick things up in the back half, finishing with only 12 homers a round after bashing 17.
A dozen dingers didn’t seem like much to top, but Harper got off to an even slower start than Muncy, going deep only four times in his first 90 seconds and mostly ripping line drives into the crowd of kids in right. Then the switch flipped: five straight homers in the next minute, and 10 by the time he took his break with 1:33 left. Needing only a trio of dingers to move on, Harper wasted no time, cranking three straight in his first three swings out of the timeout to take down Muncy. Schwarber vs. Harper, for all the home run marbles.
9:43 P.M.: KYLE SCHWARBER PLANTS BUZZER-BEATING, UPPER-DECK SHOT TO PUT AWAY RHYS HOSKINS
Emma Baccellieri: Now onto the semifinals! Rhys Hoskins' first round was strong, but his second was even better. After taking eight dingers into his two-minute-mark timeout, he lit up—hitting four home runs on four pitches directly following his return from the break. He THEN hit six in his final minute, including a buzzer-beater in regulation, for a total of 20. It was the best round of the night so far, but Kyle Schwarber wasn't going to let that stand.
Rather than taking his timeout directly at the halfway-point of the four-minute session, as most guys have been doing, Schwarber seemed to structure his round more by feel. When the 2:00-mark came around, he was mashing—like, send-baseballs-into-the-third-deck-mashing—and so he just kept on with it, finally calling for time with 12 home runs at the 1:30 mark. While it had been one of the night's better performances, it still didn't look like he was on track to best Hoskins' 20. But Schwarber went ahead and did so anyway. He exploded in the final minute, with six dingers in the last 30 seconds to push his total to 21, and he was rewarded with a spot in the finals.
9:20 P.M.: BRYCE HARPER ELECTRIFIES HOMETOWN CROWD AND MOVES ON
Jon Tayler: Braves slugger Freddie Freeman was greeted with full-throated boos from the Nationals Park crowd as he began his matchup, aiming to ruin their nights by knocking out Bryce Harper. Unlike fellow lefty-swingers Schwarber and Muncy, he didn’t pull everything, instead sending a few balls to the opposite field. That strategy didn’t pay off initially, though he did manage to jolt a few balls to left-center, including three in a row at one point, before taking his timeout with six dingers on the board and 1:55 remaining. His all-fields approach continued after the break, but while he parked three straight to start, his line drives and fly balls to left didn’t have the distance, and he went deep just twice in his final minute of action to finish with 12 bombs.
Overall, a rather pedestrian round lacking in impressive distance. After that, though, came the real party: Harper. Decked out in a D.C. headband and an American flag arm sleeve, the Nationals’ superstar came to the plate to loud “Let’s Go Harper” chants. He delivered with a bunch of moonshots to start, including a titanic 467-foot blast to the concourse in rightfield, though oddly, he waited all the way until the 1:30 mark to take his timeout. Not that he apparently needed the rest. Trailing Freeman by three with 90 seconds to go, he tied him with 40 seconds left, then hit the winner with 30 seconds still on the clock to dispatch his NL East rival, much to the joy of the hometown faithful. Next up: Muncy.
9:06 P.M.: MAX MUNCY TOPS JAVIER BAEZ WITH TIME TO SPARE
Emma Baccellieri: Javy Baez's slow start doomed him here, clearing the fence just twice in his first full minute. He did his best to make up for that in the final 30 seconds—adding four home runs, including a jaw-dropper to centerfield, to bring his regulation-time total to 14—but it wasn't quite enough, even with an extra two dingers tacked on in bonus time. (Though please note the stellar timing of that second and final one coming in juuuust as the clock struck zero.) Max Muncy tracked ahead of Baez from the start, carrying eight dingers into his two-minute timeout as opposed to his opponent's six, and he broke things open from there. He'd reached 13 by the time he hit the one-minute mark, and he bashed #17 into the bullpen to beat Baez with more than 30 seconds still on the clock.
8:44 P.M.: ALEX BREGMAN ELIMINATED BY A MATTER OF FEET, KYLE SCHWARBER MOVES ON
Jon Tayler: Kyle Schwarber, the big beefy baseball lad who slimmed down, started off his matchup with Alex Bregman by going deep 16 times. He took a bit to get going, knocking only four out in the first 90 seconds before taking his timeout. After a quick talk with teammate Willson Contreras, Schwarber found himself a groove at the two-minute mark, hitting five straight homers, though he slowed down at the end. His final blast in the bonus 30 seconds was his biggest and best: a shot to Nationals Park’s third deck in rightfield, measured at 450 feet.
Bregman followed up with a bunch of screaming line drives, most of which snuck over the wall in right and right-center. As with Schwarber, it was a lot of pull power for the Astros’ hard-hitting third baseman, who took his timeout right at the halfway mark with seven homers on the board. He circled up with his All-Star Astros teammates—including a toweling of the face from Justin Verlander, a quick back massage from Gerrit Cole, and words of wisdom from Jose Altuve—before resuming his round. Their help wasn’t enough, though: Bregman cranked eight more dingers post-timeout to get within one of Schwarber, 16–15, but his final shot clanked off the wall in center as time expired, denying him a second round. MLB’s Largest Adult Son moves on.
8:29 P.M.: RHYS HOSKINS ERUPTS FOR FIRST-ROUND UPSET OF JESÚS AGUILAR
Emma Baccellieri: And we're up and running with an upset! No.8 Rhys Hoskins passes No. 1 Jesus Aguilar, 17 dingers to 12. Aguilar fell behind from the beginning here, and by the time he took his timeout with about a minute and a half to go, he already had a steep climb ahead of him. The fact that he only cleared the fence three times in the final minute just sealed the deal. The NL's home run leader, then, will not be crowned champion tonight.
In the department of frivolities, I would like to note that Hoskins took advantage of his timeout to chug what appeared to be a clear Gatorade, which is easily a top-three flavor. Meanwhile, Aguilar earns style points for the backwards cap.
8:08 P.M.: A FIERY INTRODUCTION FOR THE HOMETOWN STAR
Jon Tayler: A stirring sight at Nationals Park, as the competitors are introduced—including Harper wearing a D.C. bandana, because he is always on—and thunderous boos for Hoskins, Schwarber, Baez and Freeman, all enemies of the Nationals. There was also pyrotechnics aplenty, which unfortunately produced so much smoke that you couldn’t see the field during the national anthem. And it’s still hanging over the crowd and field, which seems not ideal. Anyone have a giant fan?
OFFERING A PREDICTION
Jon Tayler: Folks, the apocalypse of dingers is upon us … or at least, that’s the hope for a Home Run Derby field that’s light on starpower but boasts plenty of actual power. We’re missing the big bats of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Gallo, and virtually every other notable slugger with the exception of Bryce Harper, getting a chance to shine in front of his home fans at Nationals Park.
Harper tends to overshadow his competition here, comprised as it is of names ranging from underrated (Freddie Freeman) to totally unknown before the season (Max Muncy, Jesus Aguilar). But there are three names I expect to see put up big numbers: Phillies phenom Rhys Hoskins, and Cubs teammates Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez. My bet is that we get a North Side showdown in the final between Schwarber and Baez, with the latter as my upset pick.
Emma Baccellieri: As Jon noted, this derby isn't exactly star-studded. But there are still some big bats here, and I'll put my money on Jesús Aguilar. That choice might seem somewhat boring—after all, he's tonight's top seed, with a National League-leading 24 home runs—but, really, what could possibly be boring about adding onto a breakout season like this one? Two years ago, Aguilar looked like he was on his way to washing out of the game after failing to earn playing time in Cleveland. Now he's mashing right and left. Fingers crossed that he'll meet Max Muncy in the finals for a true battle of unexpected sluggers.