DENVER — Shortly after obliterating the Home Run Derby competition like a belt-high fastball, Pete Alonso sat down at the interview podium late Monday night, placed the crossed-bat trophy on the table and spun the giant gold medallion hanging from his neck.
An MLB official then officially introduced him as the 2021 Derby champion. "Back-to-back," Alonso said with emphasis.
Make no mistake, the Mets’ charismatic slugger did more than just win two straight events (the other was 2019 in Cleveland) by mowing through the Royals’ Salvador Perez and the Nationals’ Juan Soto in the first two rounds and the Orioles’ Trey Mancini in the finals (23-22).
Alonso owns the Derby now. Maybe they should consider naming this the Polar Bear Challenge. He smashed 35 homers in the first round, a record for any round, and then didn’t even need all of the allotted time for the next two opponents. He outhomered Soto 16-15 and had 48 seconds left — plus another minute of bonus time.
This wasn’t even close, and with two Derby titles, Alonso has claimed $2 million in prize money — compared to the $1.47 million salary he’s earned from the Mets through the 2019-2021 seasons.
"I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet," he said. "To be able to showcase that and really put on a fun display for the fans, I just think that it’s truly a dream come true for me."
The favorite coming in was Angels two-way threat Shohei Ohtani, who led the majors with 33 homers at the break. But Alonso took the defense of his title very seriously, saying before the Derby that he showed up at Coors Field "on a mission."
Ohtani didn’t even make it past Soto in the first round, doubling over in exhaustion at home plate after tying him in regulation and losing after two tiebreaking swing-offs.
Alonso was enjoying himself so much that he barely looked to be breaking a sweat. Dancing to his NYC faves Nas, Notorious B.I.G. and Mobb Deep, at one point he even worked the crowd, cupping his hand to his ear and waving his arms.
Ohtani was adored by everyone, Trevor Story was the hometown hero and Mancini — who returned to play this year after battling cancer — was an inspiring comeback figure. Still, the crowd of 49,098 couldn’t help but feed off the energy from Alonso, whose relentless ability to pepper the leftfield bleachers — and a few beer stands beyond them — with rocket after rocket was mesmerizing. Overall, he crushed 74 homers, the longest of which traveled 514 feet.
Alonso talked before the event about his strategy for staying hydrating and making sure to get rest between rounds, but his overall drive to conquer always seems to carry the day. When asked about his approach, he kept it simple.
"Win," he said. "I knew there was no point where I thought I was going to lose — ever — even months before the seedings came out."
Alonso recalled how his Mets teammates felt he was disrespected by getting the fifth seed as the defending champ. "I’m going to win anyways. It doesn’t matter," he replied.
The ace up Alonso’s sleeve was Derby pitcher Dave Jauss, the Mets’ bench coach, who’s been honing his skill for years ever since serving them up to the Red Sox’s Nomar Garciaparra at the 1999 All-Star Game.
The rubber-armed Jauss repeatedly teed them up for Alonso, who credited him for "putting it right in the breadbasket, right in the honey hole."
As for Jauss, he never got to see the fruits of his labor soar into the seats, but admiring Alonso’s peerless swing was reward enough.
"I think he’s a hitter first, with tremendous power," Jauss said. "And in an event like this, also the strength that you have, you tire. It’s not easy to swing like that for three minutes, four minutes."
Said Mancini, "There’s not much more to say about Pete. He’s a beast out there."
And don’t expect Alonso to relinquish his crown anytime soon. He certainly doesn’t.
"I’m just going to enjoy this one," he said. "As for my Home Run Derby legacy, I feel like I’m one of the best people to do it."