Mets rookie Pete Alonso a smash hit in Home Run Derby
CLEVELAND — And so grows the legend of Pete Alonso.
Already rewriting the Mets’ record books as a rookie, Alonso added to his list of feats by winning the Home Run Derby on Monday night, topping Blue Jays wunderkind Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 23-22, in the finals.
The Derby winner was a line drive to left-center in the waning seconds of his four-minute hitting allotment, Alonso’s 57th long ball in three rounds. Guerrero, 20, the youngest competitor in Derby history, finished with 91, the highest total in a single Derby. He hit 69 homers in the first two rounds, including a dramatic semifinal against the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson that required three swing-offs.
Alonso celebrated his walk-off by tossing his bat and catching his leaping cousin/pitcher, Derek Morgan, in a big hug. Morgan dealt with wildness early on, but the pair figured it out after an early timeout and after Mets All-Star Jeff McNeil advised Alonso to hit the ball to the middle of the field, not try to pull it.
“We dealt with some adversity, but we overcame,” Alonso said. “Pretty much just survive and advance. That was it. But then we hit a sweet spot, and got in a groove for a little while and just carried on through. So was really special. I’m so blessed.”
Said Guerrero through an interpreter: “I gave it all I had. He deserved to win.”
Alonso is the second rookie to win the Derby, after Aaron Judge did so in 2017. He’s the first Met to win it outright. Darryl Strawberry shared the title with Wally Joyner in 1986.
Seemingly getting stronger as the night progressed, Alonso narrowly escaped the first round, edging the Indians’ Carlos Santana, 14-13. He then topped the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr., 20-19. Both times, Alonso smacked a walk-off shot just about as time expired. In all three rounds, Alonso didn’t need the 30-second bonus he earned by hitting at least two HRs at least 440 feet.
“The first round, we got the jitters out,” Morgan said. “I think we figured it out after the first timeout in that first round.”
Long a fan of the homer-hitting contest, and with an eye toward competing in it this year, Alonso began recruiting Morgan for this task during the Mets’ season-opening series in Washington — in March, before Alonso had even hit a major-league homer. When Alonso’s participation became reality, Morgan spent last week in New York, practicing with his cousin before the Mets’ games at Citi Field.
A key, according to Alonso: Staying loose, conserving energy and hydrating— all advice he got from teammates Todd Frazier and Robinson Cano, former Derby winners. Alonso said he didn’t take any swings in the batting cage between the semifinals and finals.
“Conserving energy was huge,” Alonso said. “After we got in that rhythm, it was money.”
Speaking of money: Alonso’s $1-million prize is nearly double his major-league minimum salary of $565,000. Dingers are fun, but he also wanted to use the opportunity to give back. Alonso said he is donating 10 percent of his winnings to charities — half to Wounded Warrior Project, half to Tunnel to Towers.
“This year, it’s just been so special. I’ve been living a fantasy,” Alonso said. “Yeah, it’s about the money, but for me it’s about the platform and the whole purpose behind it. The awareness is the important thing. And I hope other people can find the kindness if their hearts to reach out and help other people that help us.”
For Alonso, who has 30 homers in his rookie season, making the All-Star team and competing in the Derby were far from guarantees at season’s start, but not exactly surprises in his eyes. But what struck him Monday was who was absent.
“The most appalling thing,” Alonso said, “is I’m an All-Star and my idol — the guy I want to emulate — is Paul Goldschmidt, and he’s not here. And I am. That’s the most humbling thing about this.”
Alonso traces his baseball fandom through a series of slugging first basemen who throw and bat righthanded — players like himself — from Mark McGwire to Paul Konerko to Goldschmidt. For the first time since 2012, Goldschmidt is not an All-Star, underscoring to Alonso the fickle nature of baseball success.
That relates to an Alonso family philosophy: Don’t act like you’ve been there before. Relish each incredible experience — such as playing in the All-Star Game or even a major-league game — and refuse to become numb to how cool it all is.
“I still see myself as just a kid, you know?” said Alonso, 24. “I don’t want anything to pass me by. I don’t want to forget anything. Because this is a really special event, and I just want to enjoy every single moment.”