LOS ANGELES — Juan Soto put contract talks and trade rumors behind him for one night as the Washington Nationals star won the Home Run Derby on Monday at Los Angeles with a 19-18 advantage in the finals over Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodriguez.
Soto didn’t hit his first home run of the final round until nearly 45 seconds of the two-minute time limit had expired, but came through in bonus time. He ended in walk-off fashion when he hit his 19th home run of the final round into the Dodger Stadium seats in right field.
“It feels great. It’s another thing to add to my trophy case, and I’m going to have it there forever,” Soto said. “I will be Home Run Derby champion forever.”
Soto has been the subject of trade rumors after reportedly rejecting a $440 million contract extension.
“Right now I’m not even thinking about it,” Soto said on the ESPN broadcast. “I’m a champion, and I’m a champion with the Nationals.”
Despite falling short in the final, Rodriguez went from a player to watch in the future to a star of the present. The 21-year-old, who has helped the Mariners to a 14-game win streak, hit 81 total home runs over three rounds. He entered with 16 home runs over his first 91 major league games.
Rodriguez advanced with a 31-24 semifinal victory over two-time defending champion Pete Alonso of the New York Mets.
Alonso has participated in the Home Run Derby in each of the past three seasons, and is eager to be back for the fourth year in a row.
“I love this event. I think it’s an absolute blast,” Alonso said. “If I’m more than physically able to then I am more than likely going to do it.”
While Soto eliminated Albert Pujols in the second round, it was the St. Louis Cardinals’ legend that received just as much fanfare. Soto pushed through with a 16-15 advantage in in the semifinal round.
“It was pretty awesome, (and) I’d like to thank all my peers,” Pujols said on the ESPN broadcast. “It’s pretty awesome to see this young generation and all the talent. And I want to thank all the fans here, the Dodgers fans.”
Pujols, who is set to retire after 22 seasons, played 85 games for the Dodgers last season after 10 years and 1,181 games with the crosstown Los Angeles Angels. He is back in St. Louis where he played his first 11 seasons.
Pujols, the No. 8 seed, advanced out of the first round with a 20-19 victory over top-seeded Kyle Schwarber of the Philadelphia Phillies.
Other highlights of the opening round included Rodriguez’s show-stopping 32 home runs and a 480-foot blast from Alonso on top of the corrugated roof that hangs over the back seats of the Dodger Stadium bleachers.
Rodriguez defeated the Texas Rangers’ Corey Seager 32-24 in the first round, while Alonso topped the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. 20-19 in walk-off fashion. Soto defeated Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Guardians 18-17, also on a walk off.
Rodriguez is the first player to ever have multiple 30-homer rounds in a single derby, according to ESPN. — Reuters