For the first time in nearly a decade, the Philadelphia Phillies and their fans watched as a member of the Fightin’ Phils took part in the Home Run Derby. This year’s contest was held as part of the MLB All-Star Game festivities at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Left fielder Rhys Hoskins is only in his second season, his first full campaign in Major League Baseball. He has fewer than 140 big league games under his belt. But in that short time, the 25-year old Phillies left fielder has begun to emerge as one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game.
Pitching to Hoskins was the Phillies minor league infield coordinator, Chris Truby. In the first round, Hoskins was matched up against the top-seeded Jesus Aguilar, the slugging Milwaukee Brewers first baseman who leads the National League with 24 home runs.
Each batter received four minutes to blast as many home runs as possible. If they ripped two homers of at least 440 feet, they would receive a 30-second bonus time period. They were also permitted one time out. After clearing the fences just five times, a tired Hoskins burned his time out with two minutes and five seconds remaining.
Now refreshed, the Phillies slugger finally got on a roll, blasting one ball after another out over the left field fence. His total continued to roll all the way up to 16. Then as the clock was running out, Hoskins let go on one final swing, blasting one just over the wall in dead center field.
Now it was Aguilar’s turn. The big man was about on Hoskins’ slow opening pace. But there was one major difference. Aguilar was taking a long time watching his blasts and waiting for his high-hit balls to come back down. The time between swings made him fall way behind.
He finally burned a timeout with 1:34 left and just seven home runs. When the clock started once again, Aguilar’s pace did not improve.
In the end, it was a 17-12 victory for Hoskins, advancing him to the semi-finals. There he would face the winner of a match-up between Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs and Alex Bregman of the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
Schwarber put up 16 home runs in his first round, and then Bregman took his swings. Falling behind the pace, the Astros budding star third baseman began to find his line drive homer stroke.
Bregman managed to pull within one of Schwarber, and sent a final blast towards left center. But the ball banged off the wall, falling just a few feet short of the tie. It would be Hoskins taking on Schwarber in one semi-final.
In the other bracket, Max Muncy, the man from nowhere, blasted past Javier Baez of the Cubs by 17-16, crushing his winning homer while 32 seconds still remained on the clock. Then hometown hero Bryce Harper passed Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman with 26 seconds to spare.
Now it was Hoskins turn once again, facing off with Schwarber. The Phillies slugger ripped away in spurts, rolling up 19 home runs and earning 30 extra-time seconds during which he tacked on one more. Now it was Schwarber’s turn.
Starting slowly, Schwarber fell well behind Hoskins’ pace, and with under a minute to go in his round it appeared as if Hoskins would move on to the finals.
However, the Cubs outfielder suddenly caught fire. Trailing by four with twenty seconds to go, Schwarber had earned the 30-second bonus and his chances improved dramatically.
Schwarber began blasting homer after homer, finally passing Hoskins in the closing seconds of regulation time. Hoskins playfully waved a towel towards his vanquisher as if to cool him down, and the two embraced along the first base line.
The other semi-final saw Harper get on a roll after a slow start. He began to absolutely bomb homer after homer into the far reaches of his home (for now) ball park, passing Muncy with still 1:11 on the clock. It would be the Nationals pending free agent hero taking on Schwarber in the finals.
In that 2018 Home Run Derby final, Harper was the clear favorite. The 25-year old was the lone participant to appear in the event before, finishing as the 2013 runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes at Citi Field back in 2013. So with experience and the adrenaline supplied by the home crowd, he was going to be tough to beat.
Schwarber would go first. The Cubs slugger put up a strong mark to beat with 18 home runs. Then the bearded Harper stepped in for his swings. He began extremely slow, and took a timeout with 2:38 to go and just four homers on the board.
Harper then drilled five more, reaching nine total and calling his second timeout with 1:20 to go. Then it happened. Harper locked in and began sending missiles out, tacking off homer after homer. Nine in the final minute to tie it up as time ran out.
Having earned 30 seconds bonus time, it was all but over. On his second swing, Harper drove a ball out over the wall in dead center field. He rose his hands in victory as the home crowd exploded in celebration.