CLEVELAND — It didn’t take long for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to prove why Home Run Derby organizers wanted the 20-year-old in the event and why those who complained about his low homer total in real games were dead wrong.
There were 91 pieces of white evidence in the hands of fans at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland, a captivated national audience, and the arrival of a star for the Toronto Blue Jays to market even more when all was said and done Monday night.
Even Vladdy Jr. realized it was an arrival moment.
“We came here to put on a good show and we did,” a sweaty, tired Guerrero Jr. said on the field via Blue Jays translator Hector Lebron.
Throwing middle-in, belt-high meatballs all night long, Vladdy Jr.’s former Double-A manager, John Schneider, agrees.
“This is kind of like, ‘Hey, here I am,’” Schneider said. “Hopefully, it gives him a little bit of momentum going into the second half.
“It was arguably the best show ever put on in a home run derby, hitting 91 homers, and to have a front row view was ridiculously fun. It reminds you how talented he is. I’m just glad I had an L-screen up. By far the most fun I’ve ever had on a field.”
It started with a bang.
A new record of 29 in the first round had The Jake buzzing and Oakland A’s slugger Matt Chapman ousted.
Then the real fireworks began.
A second round matchup with Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers can only be described in one way: Epic.
With Vladdy Jr. pumping baseballs into the left field bleachers from the right side of the batter’s box and Pederson peppering the right field stands from the opposite side, the pair combined early on to send 58 souvenirs into the Ohio night.
Four-and-a-half minutes apiece didn’t decide a thing and it was 29-29.
A one-minute slug-off couldn’t decide it, either.
Triple overtime was needed and when all was said and done a clearly motived Guerrero had outlasted Pederson 40-39 in a display that Toronto Twitter was already comparing to Vince Carter’s dunk content exploits 19 years ago.
“I mean, that was crazy,” Schneider said. “That was the only time I was nervous, the one minute swing-off because he didn’t really have any margin for error. But I think that round was kind of what this event is all about with the people screaming and everything that went into it. It was awesome.”
In the final, Vladdy met brash New York Mets star Pete Alonso, the front-runner for the National League Rookie of The Year award.
Both were minor-leaguers at this time last year and it’s the first time two rookies squared off for the derby crown.
Clearly gassed with his blonde-tipped dreads flailing with each swing, Guerrero put the pressure on by adding 22 more bombs to his total, but Alonso and his 80-grade raw power had an answer.
Alonso’s 23 home runs handed him the title and a million bucks, but Vladdy Jr.’s place in Home Run Derby lore is safe.
He simply stole the show.
Total homers? Vladdy Jr. 91, Alonso 57.
The old record was 61. It’s not even close.
Vladdy’s total included 17 bombs that went 450 feet or more.
As pitchers around baseball continue to complain about juiced baseballs, not a soul was complaining about this juice.
It’s the type of night baseball needs and it’s the type of night Blue Jays fans might want to get used to.
Despite a slower than expected start to his major-league career with a .249/.328/.413 slash line and eight home runs through his first 61 games — this is your weekly reminder that it’s only considered slow because the expectations were enormous — the world saw the type of swing he possesses and the type of contact he can make.
It’s loud contact. Extremely loud.
At some point, it’s going to start showing up in real baseball games, too.
“He’s gonna hit, he’s gonna rake, he’s gonna be fine,” Schneider said. “But I think this is just a great moment for him, great moment for the Blue Jays organization, great moment for baseball.”
Already a star before he even took his first hack in the big leagues, July 8 in Cleveland can be pointed to as the night he became a household name, even for casual fans, and it happened in an event most believed had lost its luster.
Here’s betting no one will complain when he’s the first to get an invite next year.