The 29 baseballs Vlad Guerrero Jr. hit out of the park in the first round of Monday’s home run derby were things of raw power and beauty, it just felt that way.
There was at least one that rattled off the massive Progressive Field video board in left centre field.
There was the four-in-a-row flurry in extra time by the highly touted Blue Jays rookie.
By the time Guerrero was done his first round, he had turned the 2019 Home Run Derby into a spectacle, astonishing the sellout crowd with his display.
And that was just the beginning of an incredible evening headlined — though not won — by Guerrero who may not be an all-star this year, but has already fast approaching superstar status in his sport.
Vlad Jr. may have lost in the final to Pete Alonso of the Mets, but on a night when he hit 91 home runs in total it was an exhausting display of power and incredible showmanship.
“I got tired but not too much,” a weary-looking Guerrero said. “The plan was to put on a show and it was a good one.”
Good indeed. Just check out the reaction of the crowd of 36,119 in the stadium, particularly in the left-field landing zone of the Guerrero rockets. And also believe the reaction of the all-stars around Guerrero on the American League bench.
The kid’s reputation preceded him, but the real-life show is next level.
“It’s almost like they’re little leaguers and they’re watching big leaguers which is pretty insane,” said Guerrero’s Jays teammate Marcus Stroman. “To have the group of all-stars in awe of Vladimir Guerrero when he’s only a 20-year-old? These guys are perennial all-stars hitting .300 and they’re looking at him like ‘wow.’ That tells you enough.
“It’s rare. It’s like once in a generation.”
Other than being denied the $1 million first prize, it’s almost as if losing 23-22 in the final didn’t matter, it was that impressive.
Consider that Guerrero’s first homer rocketed off the massive scoreboard in deep left centre, an announcement to those who questioned it that the youngster belonged.
“What a display of power,” Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia said. “That was for all the haters who said he shouldn’t have been there.”
With his youth and his smile and yes that mighty, mighty swing, Guerrero soon won over the frenzied onlookers. After winning his first round over replacement Matt Chapman of the Athletics, Guerrero went toe-to-toe with the Dodgers’ Joc Pederson in an epic semifinal that took a 60-second overtime session and two, three-pitch tiebreaks before Vlad. emerged as the 40-39 winner.
That set up the final vs. Alonso and a shot at the record prize. Guerrero seemed to have wearied from his earlier work, then, going 30 seconds before connecting with his first. In the end, he had just 22 in the round, but a whopping 91 on the night.
Alonso kept grinding and surpassed his younger competitor with time still remaining on the clock.
In total, Alonso needed just 57 homers on the night and used the energy reserve to his advantage.
While there was some griping about Guerrero’s inclusion in what has become a fixture of all-star week — he has just eight real home runs in 61 games after all — and some concerns among Jays management about potential for injury — as Sabathia noted, there’s nothing wrong with sport being entertainment for a night, really.
Who cares if the baseballs are juiced and the competition rankles the old schoolers because what a show it was.
At 20 years and 114 days old the youngest participant in the history of the derby, Guerrero delivered in almost every way. He had Mike Trout, the greatest player in the game, in awe on the American League bench.
He had his father and 2007 derby champ taking to Twitter with simple praise: “Big Boy Has Power.”
He had Stroman leaping to the batters’ box with a towel, a drink and a fist bump at every time out and he had a nation of Jays fans bummed by the 2019 season with something to get excited about.
And then there were the numbers. In that first round alone, Vlad’s longest bomb was measured at 467 feet while another vacated in a hurry with an exit velocity of 112 miles per hour. How brute was the strength? The average distance of the first 29 was 421 feet and his longest of the night was 488.
The 29 he hit in each of the first two rounds eclipsed the record set by Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers back in 2008.
Both Guerrero and Pederson matched the 29 in the regulation portion of the semifinal. And the 91 total ranks him third overall in Derby history behind Pederson (99) and Todd Frazier (90) both of whom competed in multiple events.
Guerrero and Jays major league coach John Schneider — who has been throwing batting practice to the slugger for three years now — stuck with the strategy that works.
Dealing “belt high and in” as Schneider put it, Guerrero launched shot after shot to left and left centre. Some were towering monsters that went deep into the bleachers. Others were line-drive screamers that just cleared the wall. And others had just partial contact yet still made it out.
Guerrero had his opponents shaking their heads even before the competition began. Of course at that point it was in bemusement.
“There’s no advice,” Vlad Jr. said when asked what advice his father offered him. “Just hit the balls out.”
He did that repeatedly and sometimes in dizzying fashion. In the second round, Guerrero took his time out early to regroup and then went into launch mode, at one point hitting seven consecutive pitches over the wall.
Guerrero came out swinging too. His first homer in the opening round was measured at 462 feet and then two swats later came the 476-foot crusher.
“Vlad is an absolute monster,” Astros star Alex Bregman said. “He’s a superstar and he’s just 20 years old. We’re going to be seeing this for a while.”
Yep, as the old man said: Big Boy Has Power.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019