Was the Home Run Derby Unfair?

Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez lost final to Juan Soto, still won America’s heart


Billy Sabatini

Washington Nationals right fielder Juan Soto (22) taking a swing during the 4th inning in a game against the Miami Marlins at Nationals Park in Washington D.C., April 26, 2022. (Photo by All-Pro Reels)

JAKE HULL, Evergreen reporter

This year’s MLB Home Run Derby pitted a 21-year-old phenom against a 23-year-old superstar who recently turned down a 15-year, $440 million contract with the Washington Nationals. But was it unfair to one competitor?

Rodriguez, 21, is very well known throughout the Pacific Northwest but just recently earned national recognition as he is one of the leaders on the Seattle Mariners, the hottest team in baseball who are currently on a 14-game winning streak.

The rookie has won AL Rookie of the Month for both May and June and is well on his way to winning the award for a third straight month. It is increasingly likely that he will win the 2022 AL Rookie of the Year award should he keep up the pace he is on now.

As the only rookie in the All-Star Game this season, Rodriguez felt he needed to prove himself, which he did. In the Home Run Derby, he was the first batter and set the tone for a historic show.

Going into the contest Rodriguez was the sixth seed out of eight. His first round competitor was Corey Seager, the three seed who plays for the Texas Rangers. Seager and Rodriguez had just seen each other in Texas when the Mariners swept the Rangers thanks in part to Rodriguez hitting the Mariners’ first grand slam of the season in that series.

Rodriguez hit 32 home runs in the first round after his three-minute time limit plus the extra minute for hitting two homers over 440 feet was completed. The only player ever to hit more homers in the first round than Rodriguez was two-time champion Pete Alonso who hit 35 in the previous year. Seager got off to a slow start, and his late rally made it interesting, but he only hit 24 homers and was defeated by Rodriguez.

In the semi-final, Rodriguez once again led off, his new competitor was Alonso, the two-time reigning champion who was seen pregame working out and was doing breathing exercises and meditation in between rounds while Rodriguez was bouncing around interacting with players, fans and did interviews.

Julio went out in the second round and showed Alonso that his reign was over and hit 31 homers in the second round to bring his total to 63 homers after two rounds. When Alonso came up to swing, he knew he had to hit 32 home runs to win, but could only produce 22, and Rodriguez dethroned the champ on his way to the final.

Juan Soto was the other final competitor, which is where the contest gets interesting. Soto never was the first to swing in his groups, in all three rounds he went second, unlike Rodriguez who went first every time and had to exert all his energy to hit the maximum homers he could while Soto got to sit and see just how many he needed each round. In the first round, Soto hit only 18 homers but because his competitor Jose Ramirez only hit 17 Soto could save his energy and cruise to victory easily.

In the second round, Soto went up against Albert Pujols who knocked off the number one seed Kyle Schwarberer 20-19 in a major upset in extra time. Pujols only has six homers in the entire season but is an all-time great player. Pujols earned a legacy selection to the 2022 All- Star game as he ranks fifth all-time in home runs (685). Pujols went first and hit 15 homers, yet again letting Soto put in around 50% effort in the round where he hit 16 homers and moved on to the final.

In the final round, competitors were given two minutes to hit as many homers as they could, plus an extra minute if they hit two homers over 440 feet. Rodriguez led but only got 30 seconds of bonus time, and was visibly exhausted from going first every time, and still managed to hit 18 homers.

With an exhausted Rodriguez who missed 30 seconds of a bonus, Soto looked fresh and took advantage, earning the full one-minute bonus and hitting the 19 homers necessary to give him the win.

Overall, Rodriguez hit a total of 81 homers in the three rounds while Soto hit 53 in three rounds. Rodriguez started all three rounds and could not save any energy as he set the bar against Seager and two-time champ Alonso while Soto went second every time and went against Pujols, who is retiring at the end of this season.

Rodriguez put on an all-time performance but has no hardware to show for it. One thing is certain, Julio had a lot of fun, and maybe that is what matters at this early stage of his career.