By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Washington Nationals star Juan Soto won his first Home Run Derby on Monday night, holding off Seattle Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez 19-18 in the final.
The 23-year-old Soto hit 53 total homers, beating each of his three opponents by one homer in the midseason power showcase. Soto was locked in at the plate even after spending an hour earlier at Dodger Stadium answering repeated questions about his possible departure from the Nats after turning down a huge contract extension.
“It feels amazing. It feels tiring,” Soto said. “I just tried to concentrate to square off the balls, because I know I have the power.”
Soto beat Cleveland’s José Ramírez 18-17 in the first round before getting past 42-year-old Albert Pujols 16-15 to reach the final.
Soto then started slowly while batting second behind the Mariners’ 21-year-old phenom in the final round, failing to hit his first homer until his 10th swing. He eventually caught fire to win a lively Derby that began with an on-field pyrotechnics display that spooked the competitors.
Soto’s longest homer of the night traveled 471 feet, and he hit the winning 415-foot homer with 20 seconds of bonus time to spare, then whipped his bat in the air before being swarmed by other Dominican All-Stars.
Soto earns a $1 million prize and another highlight on his resume as his time with Washington possibly nears an end. The Athletic reported over the weekend that Soto turned down a $440 million, 15-year contract to stay with the Nationals, and he could be traded by the end of the month.
“Right now, I’m not even thinking about it,” Soto said while hoisting the trophy over his head. “I’m a champion, and I will be a champion for the Nationals.”
Rodríguez signaled his arrival on baseball’s biggest stage with a dynamic three-round performance at Chavez Ravine, where he still hasn’t played yet for the Mariners. Only four players had managed to hit 30 homers in a single Derby round before Rodríguez did it in each of his first two rounds, and he finished the night with 81 of them.
His 32 dingers against Texas’ Corey Seager in the first round were the second-most ever in that round, and the rookie added 31 in the semifinals to oust two-time defending champion Pete Alonso, who had 23.
Pujols beat top-seeded Kyle Schwarber in a heartwarming first-round upset before Soto finished his night in a victory that probably didn’t much bother Pujols, an idol to fellow Dominican stars such as Soto and Rodríguez.
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