CLEVELAND — In the frenzied aftermath of Monday night’s Home Run Derby conquest, Pete Alonso arrived at his locker, still wearing his Mets’ pinstripes, when someone rushed to him with a cellphone. Fred Wilpon was on the line, offering his congratulations.
Moments earlier, the team’s chief operating officer, Jeff Wilpon, had been at Progressive Field in person to watch Alonso’s fireworks display. As much as Alonso was all-in for the Derby, describing the victory as the culmination of a lifelong dream, the Mets wanted him to hoist that trophy just as badly.
Perhaps more so.
In the midst of the team’s humiliating first half, Alonso was a point of light in the darkness, heading into the break with 30 home runs. And for him to do what he did Monday night, on the national stage, showing the world that a Met was capable of something spectacular, Alonso used every ounce of his might to change the bleak narrative, if only for a day or two.
Or as one Mets’ official plainly put it: “We needed this.”
No kidding. At the All-Star break, the Mets’ brand was hurting, with this year’s 40-50 edition imploding faster than New Coke. Mickey Callaway threatening to toss a reporter, Brodie Van Wagenen actually hurling a chair. The bullpen throwing cookies.
And then along comes Alonso, along with his BP-throwing cousin, to make everybody forget what being 13 1/2-games out of first place feels like. Instead, Alonso provided buzzer-beating drama, incredible feats of strength, and most importantly, the thrill of being a champion — at something.
Alonso even followed up his Derby crown Tuesday night with a two-run single off Indians lefty Brad Hand in the eighth inning, a rocket that got past Gleyber Torres playing on the grass in shallow left-center, making him the only rookie with multiple RBIs in an All-Star Game. He also made a terrific diving, stretching grab of Max Muncy’s wide throw to first.
Since Alonso enjoys food metaphors, consider his All-Star performance the cherry on top of the Derby sundae. The prize money this year was jacked up to $1 million, nearly double his $555,000 salary, and he already had pledged a pair of five percent shares to two charities, the Wounded Warriors Project and Tunnel to Towers.
The cash Alonso pocketed was nice. But to him, a bonus.
“I grew up wanting to do this,” Alonso said. “Whether it was for a million dollars or doing it for free. The biggest thing for me is the bragging rights. I don’t know how much I would pay for that, if I had the money. But to me, the bragging rights are priceless.
“I mean, a million dollars, you can put it in the bank, you can spend it all. It doesn’t matter what you do with it. At the end of the day, I’m a Home Run Derby champion. No one’s going to take that away from me. I’m going to tell my grandkids about this one day.”
Chances are, if Alonso turns out to be the next David Wright, plenty of Mets’ fans will be saying the same thing, recalling Monday night’s events with the same reverence. And that’s part of the reason why the Derby, essentially a longest-drive contest, with no bearing on a team’s regular-season fortunes, can boost a franchise’s sagging ego.
Walking to the plate with his custom-painted bat, a multi-colored, meteor design with the block-lettered “Haley’s Comet” — the name of his fiancee, and because he was “going to put balls into orbit”—- Alonso was the hero the Mets needed at the moment. The Bunyan-esque Polar Bear, capable of out-homering the great Vladimir Guerrero Jr. when it counted.
Guerrero clubbed the most home runs with 91 overall, to Alonso’s 57. While none of those impacted the Mets’ win-loss record, to say they’re meaningless to the franchise would be a gross misjudgment. Alonso fully understood the importance to the name across his chest.
“I don’t just want to represent myself, but I’m the representative of the team,” Alonso said. “I’m just really happy I could represent the Mets in such a positive light. There’s so many people that have helped me get to where I’m at. This is just something I wanted to do to kind of just represent, you know? Hold it down for Flushing.”
After Alonso’s leading role in yet another wildly-entertaining Derby, an undercard event that has now officially overshadowed the All-Star Game, his mission at the Midsummer Classic was complete. Do damage, collect the million bucks, take home the trophy.
And make his Mets matter again. Alonso proved they could be more than a punchline with those 57 bombs, by hitting bullets rather than absorbing them. The Mets were desperately hoping that he would deliver that moment.
“I’m just really happy that my dreams came true,” Alonso said.
So are the Mets.