LOS ANGELES (AP) — Juan Soto bet big on his talent and his health when he turned down a massive, long-term contract extension from the Washington Nationals.
Soto then went to the Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium and showed why he definitely can’t lose.
Soto won the Derby for the first time on Monday night, beating Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez 19-18 in the final.
Soto, 23, hit 53 total home runs, beating each of his three opponents by a home run while finishing second each time in the midseason power showcase. Soto was locked up at home plate even after spending an hour earlier at Chavez Ravine answering repeated questions about his potential departure from the Nats after turning down a $440 million offer.
“It’s amazing. It’s tiring,” said Soto, an NL All-Star reserve for Tuesday’s Midsummer Classic. that I know I have the power.”
With a big celebratory bat-beat after the last homer fell in the stands, Soto became the second-youngest Home Run Derby winner in baseball history — in a single day. At 23 years and 266 days, Soto is just one day older than Juan González when he won in 1993.
Soto hit a 482-foot blast to right center while beating Cleveland’s José Ramírez 18-17 in the first round, and he beat 42-year-old Albert Pujols 16-15 to reach the final.
Rodríguez was even more impressive in the first two rounds while signaling his arrival on baseball’s biggest stages, especially when he knocked out two-time defending champion Pete Alonso of the Mets 31-23 in the second round. Only four players had managed to hit 30 home runs in a single round of Derby before the 21-year-old Mariners phenom did it twice, and he finished the night with 81 of them.
“What did I show the fans? Who I am,” said Rodríguez, who made his league debut on April 8 and hit his first career home run on May 1. “A bit of my style, of who I am. I think they know a little more now.
In the final round match between friends of Dominican descent who sometimes play “Call of Duty” together, Soto started slow while batting second, failing to hit his first homer until his 10th swing. He eventually burst into flames to win a spirited Derby which began with a display of pyrotechnic flames on the pitch which scared the competitors.
Soto hit the game-winning 415-foot homer with 20 seconds of extra time to spare, then whipped his bat into the air before being swarmed by other Dominican All-Stars. His circuits covered a total of 5.41 miles.
Soto earns a million-dollar award — far more than his $700,000 salary this season — and another resume highlight as his time with Washington may be coming to an end. Soto started his day at Dodger Stadium answering quick, two-language questions about his future, with agent Scott Boras standing right next to him throughout the grill.
“I’m a lone survivor,” Soto said with a laugh. “I’ve been through all of these things, and I’m still standing there and with my head held high, all the time. And that shows you that I can go through anything.
Soto turned down a 15-year, $440 million deal to stay with the Nationals in a move first reported by The Athletic last weekend, and he could be traded by the end of the month. This contract would have been the largest by total value and the 19th by average salary in baseball history.
“Right now I’m not even thinking about it,” Soto said as he hoisted the trophy above his head. “I am a champion and I will be a champion for the national championships.”
Potential suitors for de Soto are chasing a former World Series champion who is still at his peak, whose power is only one aspect of his overall ability – but as he showed in Los Angeles, the long ball is an element key to his skills. Soto will turn 26 around the time he becomes eligible for free agency after the 2024 season.
But until the final, the Derby’s best stories were the oldest and youngest competitors.
Pujols beat top-seeded Kyle Schwarber in a heartwarming first-round upset before Soto ended his night in a win that probably didn’t bother Pujols much, an idol to other Dominican stars such as Soto and Rodríguez. .
“In (Dominican Republic), I know everyone is really proud,” Soto said. “Since all three of us were in the final, three Dominicans, it just shows you that it’s a win for the Dominican Republic, so we’re pretty proud of that.”
Pujols, the Commissioner’s special guest for Tuesday’s game, was welcomed by fellow All-Stars and Southern California fans who cheered him on for nine seasons in Anaheim and again last year with the Dodgers.
Rodríguez became the Derby’s third-youngest runner-up at 21 years and 201 days, with only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bryce Harper getting there quicker. Rodríguez will have another shot at becoming the youngest Derby winner next year at home at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, as he will be even younger than González in 1993 or Soto is today.
Rodríguez’s 32 dingers against Corey Seager of Texas in the first round was the second in this round’s history, and the rookie was nearly as strong in the second round while finishing Alonso, whose mid-competition meditation sessions didn’t didn’t do the trick. .
Pujols was apparently everyone’s favorite sentimental contender heading into his fifth and final Home Run Derby, this time as a squad player with just six homers this season for the Cardinals. Pujols is fifth on baseball’s career list with 685 homers, but he hadn’t tried the Derby since 2015 when he was with the Angels.
He hit a single homer in the first minute at Dodger Stadium before taking his timeout and choosing a lighter bat, which allowed him to finish strong with 13 homers in regulation in the first round – including a break for a 30-second standing ovation from the other All-Stars, who gathered around him and cheered before his bonus time.
Pujols’ tally was the lowest so far in the Derby, and he thought he was done – he even gave Joe Musgrove’s cousin his batting gloves. He had to get the gloves back for overtime after Schwarber only managed 13 himself, and Pujols held off Schwarber to advance.
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