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J-Rod Hits Record Round, Arozarena Poses Down, but Vlad Jr. Takes Derby Crown

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Morgan Killian-Moseley

SEATTLE, WA- Toronto Blue Jays 1st baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. outlasted seven other sluggers, including a historic effort from Tampa Bay Rays left fielder Randy Arozarena, to win the 2023 T-Mobile All-Star Home Run Derby at Seattle's T-Mobile Park on July 10; though Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodriguez wowed the hometown crowd with a single round record 41 home runs in the quarterfinals.

The eight hitters competed in bracket-style head-to-head timed rounds with the higher total advancing. The competitors were seeded 1-8 based on their regular season home run totals. Each slugger had three minutes (two in the finals) to hit as many home runs as they could, with one 45-second timeout to catch their breath.

New to this year’s competition was guaranteed bonus time. Since the timed format's second year in 2016, hitters could earn 30 seconds of bonus time (and an extra breather before it) if they hit multiple home runs of 440 feet or longer in a round. This year each hitter got 30 seconds of bonus time off the bat; hitting multiple 440-foot+ home runs would double that bonus time to one minute.

Another change made was having only one timeout in all rounds. Previously, hitters would have two timeouts in the finals; but with the finals being reduced to two minutes this year and the addition of guaranteed bonus time, the extra finals breather was eliminated.

Kicking off the tournament in the first quarterfinal matchup the #5 seed Arozarena took on the #4 seed, Texas Rangers right fielder Adolis Garcia; the MLB leader in runs batted in. As the lower seed, Arozarena batted first. With Rays field coordinator Tomas Francisco throwing to him, Arozarena was able to deliver 19 homers in regular time- but only one went at least 440 feet, meaning Arozarena would only have 30 seconds bonus time. He made the most of it, though, hitting five more bombs to finish with 24.

Garcia, who grew up with Arozarena in Cuba and was teammates with him in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system, was planning on giving his old friend a run for his money. But it seemed like he couldn’t develop a rhythm with his pitcher, Rangers third base coach and former interim manager Tony Beasley. Garcia could be seen telling Beasley to throw lower during the round and in the waning moments Garcia went cold, hitting only two homers over his last 30 seconds of regulation time and his 30 seconds of bonus time. (Garcia did not have any home runs of 440+ feet.) Garcia finished with 17 big flies and wished his old friend luck in the rest of the competition.

The second quarterfinal matchup featured the #8 seed, Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman, taking on the #1 seed, Chicago White Sox center fielder Luis Robert Jr.

With his father Randy pitching to him, Rutschman hit 21 homers from the left side of the plate in regulation time, only one going at least 440 feet. In bonus time, to the surprise of nearly everyone in attendance, Rutschman turned around and hit right-handed- and launched six more bombs in the extra 30 seconds, giving him a total of 27.

Robert had White Sox bullpen catcher Luis Sierra throwing to him, and with the pace Robert was connecting on he might have been thinking “Bonus time? I don’t need no stinkin’ bonus time!” As it turned out, Robert could only tie Rutschman in the regulation three minutes, so he did need his stinkin’ bonus time. He didn’t need much of it though, as it only took him 14 seconds to hit the round-winner and walk off Rutschman 28-27.

In the third quarterfinal it was #6 seed Guerrero facing the #3 seed, right fielder Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers. This was Guerrero’s first Derby since 2019 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, where he hit a Derby record 91 home runs but fell to New York Mets first baseman Pete Alonso in the finals.

The man pitching to Guerrero in Cleveland was John Schneider, who was an assistant coach for Toronto at the time. Four years later, and now the Jays’ manager, Schneider once again threw to Guerrero. And while things started slow, they eventually got right on track as Guerrero’s first homer went 453 feet. He would then hit a 456-foot shot to earn his double bonus time. Though he would manage only 17 homers in the regulation three minutes, Vlad Jr. would tack on nine more in the bonus minute for a total of 26.

As for Betts, he looked like a guy who looked out of place in the Derby- which is understandable, considering it took a good bit of persuasion from his wife Brianna for Betts to even agree to participate. Betts and his pitcher, Dodgers first base coach Clayton McCullough, seemed out of sync with the Derby in general- despite some advice from Dodgers teammate J.D. Martinez, as Betts didn’t even use his timeout in regulation and managed only 11 home runs in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, giving Guerrero the landslide win.

The last quarterfinal matchup was #7 seed Rodriguez against #2 seed Alonso, a rematch from last year’s Derby semifinals where J-Rod would end the Polar Bear’s chances at a three-peat only to succumb to Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto (now with the San Diego Padres) in the finals.

Rodriguez once again called on his old friend Franmy Peña to pitch to him, as he did last year. Rodriguez’s approach was simple: swing at everything. Peña was on-point with his location from the get-go as 73% of Rodriguez’s swings left the yard over the regulation three minutes, yielding 32 homers. And in the bonus minute, Rodriguez tacked on nine more to finish with the single-round record 41. The previous record had been held by Guerrero who hit 40 in the 2019 semifinals, but 11 of those came after regulation as it took overtime and a triple swing-off for him to defeat Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson (now with the San Francisco Giants).

Having to match and break a Derby record would be a very intimidating task for anyone, but many thought Alonso would give Rodriguez a good fight. It was Alonso’s original intent to have his old mentor and youth travel team coach Mike Friedlein pitching to him, as he had promised to Friedlein back in the day. But Friedlein developed tightness in his pitching elbow and was unable to throw effectively, so Mets batting practice pitcher Aaron Myers got the emergency “spot start”.

There was a palpable difference to Derbys past for Alonso. In his championship performances Alonso was loose throughout, bobbing his head to the music playing during his time at-bat. This year though, Alonso looked visibly tight; as if he wasn’t having as much fun this time. Whether it was the last-minute pitcher change or the fact that he, in his words, “ran into a buzzsaw” in Rodriguez’s performance, Alonso just didn’t have enough in him to mount a serious challenge. He finished with a respectable total of 21 home runs, bowing out to the hometown hero and ensuring that Mariner legend Ken Griffey Jr. remains the only three-time Derby Champion- for now.

The first semifinal matchup pitted Arozarena against Robert. Randy the Ray started the regulation three minutes semi-slow but hit the turbo button near the end, hitting a dozen bombs in the last 46 seconds to get to 30, exactly two traveling at least 440 feet. Having the full minute of bonus time, Arozarena would add five more for a total of 35.

Robert had some long homers in the semis, including a Derby-leading 484-foot blast around 30 seconds in, but he just couldn’t match Arozarena’s volume; netting 21 big flies in regulation. Despite having a full minute of bonus time, it was obvious Robert just didn’t have enough in the tank. Robert only managed one more homer in the extra minute, giving Arozarena a 35-22 win and giving the Rays their first Derby finalist in franchise history.

Rodriguez and Guerrero squared off in the other semifinal. The highly partial T-Mobile Park crowd couldn’t wait to see how J-Rod would follow up his record-breaking performance. The thing about record-breaking performances though, as Guerrero himself can attest to, is that they take a lot out of you. Rodriguez’s swing-at-everything approach took its toll in the semis, as many of Peña’s pitches weren’t exactly quality BP; and near the end of the regulation three minutes it was clear Rodriguez was spent. He managed 16 homers in the regulation three minutes, half of his quarterfinal regulation total, none of them even traveling 425 feet. Rodriguez did add four more in his bonus 30 seconds to give him 20 on the round, but the Seattle faithful could sense the end was near for their man.

Guerrero could sense this and paced himself in the semis. Once he had secured the double bonus time, Guerrero seemed to take his foot off the gas pedal. He even took a couple of pitches from Schneider before tying Rodriguez with his last swing of regulation, telling the crowd “It’s MY TIME!” Rodriguez may have been in his home park, but it was Vlad Jr. with the walkoff shot 16 seconds into bonus time to give him the 21-20 win and send him back to the finals.

Guerrero didn’t get much of a break, though. As the lower seed between himself and Arozarena, Guerrero had first licks in the finals. Guerrero managed only six homers in the first 37 seconds, prompting him to use his timeout. He and Schneider got back on track, as Guerrero launched 14 big flies in the final 1:23 of regulation to give him 20 in the two-minute finals regulation round, two of them traveling 445 feet to give Guerrero the double bonus. In that extra minute, Guerrero would add five more for a grand total of 25.

Arozarena also came on strong after a slow start, netting 21 big flies in the regulation two minutes. However none of them traveled 440 feet, meaning he had only 30 seconds in his four-to-tie, five-to-win bonus time. Whether the extra bonus time would have made the difference we’ll never know, as Arozarena only managed two home runs in bonus time; giving Guerrero the 25-23 win.

Guerrero joined Arozarena in the latter’s famous (or infamous to opposing pitchers) pose before giving him a hug. Guerrero would then be presented the Home Run Derby Championship Trophy by Griffey, this year’s champion’s commemorative chain featuring the Mariners logo’s signature compass rose by legendary Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch, and a commemorative jacket with the the 2023 MLB All-Star game logo and the phrase “La Gente del Barrio” (The People of the Neighborhood)- which the Blue Jays have used to represent the many different cultures that make up themselves and their fans, and which appears on the team’s home run jacket- by his family and friends.

Guerrero is the first Blue Jay to win the Derby. Three Jays had previously finished as the runner up- Guerrero himself in 2019 to Alonso, Jose Bautista in 2012 to the Milwaukee Brewers’ Prince Fielder, and Alex Rios in 2007 to, ironically, Vladimir Guerrero Sr. of the Los Angeles Angels.

The win also makes Guerrero Sr. and Jr. the only father-son Home Run Derby Champion duo in MLB history. Vlad Sr. took to Twitter to congratulate his son:

Arozarena hit 82 home runs in the runner-up’s effort, second-most all-time behind Guerrero’s 91 in 2019- also in a runner-up’s effort.

This year’s Derby had a total of 341 home runs, a new single-Derby record, surpassing 2019’s 312.


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