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Pete Alonso returns to defend his Home Run Derby trophy

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It’s been a while since Polar Bear won the derby, so we’re here to catch you up before Monday’s show.

MLB: All Star Game-Home Run Derby Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

On July 8, 2019 at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Mets first baseman Pete Alonso became only the second player in franchise history to claim victory in MLB’s Home Run Derby, and the first since Darryl Strawberry earned a tie atop the 1986 derby leaderboard. It was a memorable moment in a season full of them for the slugger, who broke the single-season rookie home run record (53) while setting a single-season franchise benchmark for home runs.

With All Star activities cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Alonso retained his crown for an additional year. Now, just over two years later, Polar Bear Pete is back to defend his title. It’s been a while since the last Home Run Derby, and a lot has happened since then, so we’re here here to catch you and preview what you can expect tonight.

2019 Home Run Derby

The 2019 derby was the fifth year of the updated format, which features a bracket that ranks competitors from one through eight and has them go head-to-head. Each player gets four minutes on the clock, and the goal is simply to hit more home runs than the player you are matched up against in the allotted time to advance into the next round.

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ROUND 1

Alonso, who had 30 home runs heading into the break in 2019, came in as the two seed and was matched up against Cleveland first baseman and not-the-famed-guitarist Carlos Santana, who had 19 homers up to that point in the season.

Santana had the hometown crowd on his side, but it was not enough to propel him to victory over the rookie first baseman. Alonso pulled off a dramatic, last-second win against Santana with 14 homers, even though he got off to a slow start thanks to some errant tosses from his appointed pitcher, his cousin Derek Morgan. He pulled off seven homers in the final minute, and four in the final 30 seconds to pull off the come-from-behind win and advance. In the round, his longest home run traveled an estimated 466 feet, with a 110 mph exit velocity. It was the kind of blast Mets fans had become accustomed to seeing from Alonso over the course of his rookie season.

ROUND 2

The second round featured a matchup between Alonso and division rival Ronald Acuña Jr. The sixth seed Acuña Jr. had easily dispatched Josh Bell with a 25-dinger performance in the previous round. The outfielder crushed 19 homers in the second round, which meant Alonso would need to step up his game in order to advance to the finals.

The slugger did just that, as he entertained the crowd with a 20-homer performance to advance. As he did in the first round, he got off to a sluggish start before turning it on late and storming back to defeat his opponent. He homered in four of his final five swings over the final 24 seconds of the round to pull off the exciting win and stake his claim to one of the two spots in the finals. His longest home run in the round went one foot farther than his longest from the first round, with his 467-foot blast serving as his longest of the competition.

ROUND 3

Alonso’s second round win led to a titanic matchup between rookie phenoms Alonso and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who defeated Joc Pederson in the most entertaining head-to-head showcase of the derby. In the previous round, Vladito and Pederson were knotted up at 29 when time expired. The two went back-and-forth across three separate swing-offs to determine a winner, with Guerrero Jr. finally emerging victorious with a single-round record 40 (40!) homers to Pederson’s modest 39.

Guerrero Jr., an underdog who entered the tournament as the eight seed, set an all-time derby record by launching 91 dingers, which included his 22 in the championship round. Needing to top his previous best of 20, Alonso met the challenge head on, cracking 23 home runs to take the title. In doing so, he picked up his third walk-off of the derby as he hit his 57th and final homer with 18 seconds to spare. Alonso, who showed a lot of emotion throughout the tournament, flipped his bat as his cousin leapt into his arms. In total, his 57 home runs were the fourth-most in a single derby, though it was the third most of the 2019 competition behind Pederson’s 60 and Guerrero Jr.’s record-setting 91.

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2021 Home Run Derby

Alonso officially announced his return to defend his title on June 23 in an Instagram post, making him the lone returning competitor from the 2019 field. He was one of the first to throw his name into the ring, as the rest of the field has slowly trickled in. The defending champ, who has 17 home runs through the All Star break, enters as the fifth seed in the tourney. This year’s competition features some of the game’s biggest and brightest stars, and it should be a fun field overall. Here’s who Pete will see on Monday, starting with the left side of the bracket.

Salvador Perez (4)

A Met taking on someone from the Kansas City Royals? Oh boy, what could go wrong? Perez will serve as the starting catcher for the American League All Stars on Tuesday, which is his seventh All Star selection. The 11-year veteran is the fourth member of the Royals to participate in the derby, and is looking to be their first ever winner. He is also looking to become the first catcher to take home the trophy. The longtime Royal has 21 home runs on the season, which leads all catchers in MLB and puts him in a tie for eight in the American League, while his .501 SLG is third among catchers with at least 200 plate appearances.

Shohei Ohtani (1)

Should Alonso advance past Perez, he will be tasked with facing either Shohei Ohtani or Juan Soto. Let’s start with Ohtani and oh, where to even begin? There is really nothing that can be said about Ohtani that anybody reading this piece doesn’t already know. He is a two-way player who is a tremendous pitcher and an even better hitter. The odds-on favorite to win AL MVP honors, Ohtani is doing things never seen before in this sport. His 33 home runs and .698 SLG lead all players in baseball, and many of those homers are tape measure shots. Ohtani should come in as the favorite to win the competition, and with the baseballs not being stored in the humidor for the derby, there’s a good chance he could shatter the record for longer dinger at Coors Field.

Juan Soto (8)

Alonso could also find himself matching up against an NL East foe, as he did in 2019, if Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto can pull off the first-round upset against Ohtani. Mets fans are all too familiar with Soto, who has emerged as one of the sport’s bright young stars and is tied for the second-most home runs ever hit by a teenager (22) in MLB. The Rookie of the Year runner-up and 2020 batting champion enters the competition with 11 home runs on the 2021 season, and will look to follow in Bryce Harper’s footsteps and become the second National to win the derby. It’s hard to believe, but 2021 is Soto’s first career All Star game selection. While his power numbers are down from where they usually are at this point in the season, but he could still be a player to watch in this one.

Joey Gallo (2)

On the right side of the bracket, the leading contender to make the finals is Joey Gallo, who ranks second. The Texas Rangers outfielder is your traditional three-outcome player, and goes into the break leading the league in walks and strikeouts while ranking sixth with 24 home runs on the season. The slugger has a good chance at the third 40-plus homer season of his big league career. In addition to being a leading contender in the derby, he could also serve as one of the top names on the trading block at the deadline, with the Rangers well out of the American League West race. He is looking to become the first Ranger to win the derby since Juan Gonzalez did so in 1993.

Trevor Story (7)

Like in 2019, the home town hero will come in as the seven-seed in the tournament. Story didn’t quite have the numbers to earn his third straight All Star game selection, but he will have the Coors Field crowd on his side. The 28-year-old, who will headline a stacked free agent shortstop class this winter, is twelfth among major league shortstops with 11 home runs at the break. Story also owns the longest home run in Coors Field history, having hit one 505 feet in 2018. Like Gallo, Story figures to get a lot of attention at the deadline, as the Rockies are well out of the race and are unlikely to offer him a long-term extension.

Matt Olson (3)

Olson is no stranger to socking dingers, as he has hit 124 for the Oakland Athletics since earning a full-time roster spot in August 2017. His 23 home runs at the break are the seventh-most in MLB. The slugging first baseman, who has a 156 wRC+ and a .567 SLG at the break, earned his first All Star game selection this year, as he will serve as a reserve behind Guerrero Jr. on the AL roster. He was the most recent to announce his participation, posting this video earlier this week on his Twitter account.

Trey Mancini (6)

Nobody in the field has as compelling and inspiring a story as Mancini, who missed the entire 2020 season as he battled stage three colon cancer. He has returned since announcing he was cancer-free last November and has subsequently had a terrific first year. While he fell short of making his first ever All Star game, his inclusion in the derby is a wonderful story, and he will no doubt have many in his corner rooting for him. The first baseman has hit 16 home runs so far this season.

The 2021 T-Mobile Home Run Derby airs on Monday, July 12 at 8:00 p.m. EDT on ESPN.

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