As Justin Bour slugged pitch after pitch deep into the right field stands at Marlins Park July 10, it seemed, at the moment, as if Aaron Judge would have no chance of advancing past the first round of the 2017 MLB Home Run Derby.
Bour, a Miami Marlins player, brought the Miami crowd to its feet by hitting a remarkable 22 home runs in his first round matchup against Judge.
By the time Judge, a New York Yankee outfielder and MLB’s current leader in home runs (30), stepped to the plate, the fans at Marlins Park erupted with boos. Not only was Judge favored to beat the hometown Bour, but Judge’s Yankee teammate Gary Sanchez had already eliminated Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton from the derby.
Despite being favored headed into the contest, 22 homers would be a tough act to follow, even for the 6-foot-7-inch, 282-pound Slugger Judge. With both the odds and the crowd against him, Judge went to work to try and challenge Bour.
Under the current home run derby rules, each player has four minutes to hit as many balls as they can over the outfield fence. There is also a bonus 30 seconds awarded to a player if he hits two balls at least 440 feet. Each player is also allowed to take one timeout.
With 2:17 remaining in his first round appearance, Judge had managed to hit just seven long balls and decided to call a timeout. He was well behind Bour’s pace by then.
However, after regrouping with a break, Judge came out on fire. In the final 2:17 of the round, Judge smashed 14 homers, including a 501-foot bomb that travelled over the Marlin statue in left center field. Having hit several balls over 440 feet, Judge was awarded with 30 seconds of bonus time, in which he delivered two more home runs, eclipsing Bour and advancing to the second round.
In round two, Judge’s opponent was Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Like Judge, Bellinger is a rookie slugger who put on a show in the first half of the season.
Bellinger led the round off by hitting 12 home runs. Yet, even before Judge stepped back into the batter’s box you got the sense that 12 homers wouldn’t be nearly enough. Unfortunately for Bellinger, he was going up against a machine.
In response to Bellinger’s 12, Judge posted 13 homers with well over a minute remaining in his second round at bat. Three of his homers travelled at least 500 feet, including a mammoth 513-foot shot, which was the furthest hit ball of the night.
After defeating Bellinger, Judge moved on to the finals where he faced Minnesota Twins’ Miguel Sano. Appearing to be fatigued, Sano struggled for much of the final round, but he managed to come on strong late and finish with 10 home runs.
As was the case for Bellinger, however, 10 home runs was not enough to stay ahead of Judge.
Having won over the Miami crowd with moonshot after moonshot, Judge worked quickly in the final round and hit 11 home runs well before the one minute mark, on his way to being crowned as the 2017 MLB Home Run Derby Champion.
Perhaps what was most remarkable about his performance is the fact that, while everyone else appeared to be gassed by the second round, Judge never seemed to break a sweat. It’s worth noting that Judge did not just pull the ball. Rather, he sprayed it to all fields.
After an electrifying first half of a rookie season that has him as the early favorite for American League MVP, Judge’s derby performance only serves to bolster his already rapidly growing legend. There’s something about power hitting Yankee outfielders — like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Reggie Jackson — that resonates with baseball fans, and considering the struggles the sport has had recently with popularity, perhaps Judge is exactly what the game needs.