Baseball has long distinguished itself from other team sports by its lack of a clock. The game takes however long it takes, which is something that baseball fans tend to like (“It’s relaxing!”) and baseball haters tend to hate (“It’s boring!”).
The Home Run Derby long functioned in a similar way. There were home runs and there were outs. After 10 outs, a player’s turn was over. But that changed last night, when Major League Baseball introduced a clock to the Home Run Derby in an attempt to inject some life into what’s become a drawn out and boring spectacle.
It worked. The three-minute clock was shot of adrenaline to the Derby. In years past players would take their time, waiting on their pitch, which was a sound strategy. Every liner, every grounder, every pop-up was an out. But last night there were no outs and there were nearly no pitches taken. There wasn’t time to be selective. Pitchers were allowed to throw the ball as soon as the last one landed. And they did, pumping in Little League fastballs like a 12-year-old on a Capri Sun high.
The first sign that this new format was going to be a success came in the first round when Prince Fielder, the two-time Home Run Derby champ, squared off against Todd Frazier, the Reds third baseman with a stadium of people behind him. Oh yeah, the Home Run Derby is now a bracket style competition too, a change that was introduced last year. Think of it as baseball’s version of the NCAA Tournament, only better because there’s no Duke.
Fielder vs. Frazier was incredible. Prince went first because he’s royalty and dropped a handful of moon shots into the right field seats. One landed about 10 feet away from me and I saw a middle aged man nearly wedge his bald head in a metal fence while reaching for the ball. He didn’t get it. Fielder finished with 12 home runs in his three minutes and hit another in his 30 seconds of bonus time, awarded because he hit at least two balls more than 425 feet.
Todd Frazier followed and before he could start swinging the fans were acting like they just found some free Skyline chili under their seats. It’s worth mentioning now that the Reds suck. They’re about to trade their best pitcher and give up on 2015. So this was a big moment for Cincinnati fans and they didn’t let it pass unnoticed. Frazier began depositing souvenirs in the left field seats. Each time the crowd progressively lost more and more of its shit. And then with six seconds left he hit number 13, tying Fielder. You could have sent out an amber alert for the crowd’s shit at this point. They knew Frazier had his own bonus round coming and after the first swing of that bonus round, pandemonium.
Frazier moved on the second round, where he was joined by Albert Pujols, Joc Pederson and Josh Donaldson. Many more homers were hit on the way to the final, which pit Frazier against Pederson. And as much as the MLB deserves credit for the rule changes (buzzer beater home runs are baseball’s best new thing) , last night wouldn’t have been nearly as fun if a hometown player hadn’t eventually won.
Frazier’s performance made the night special and the final round was the best part of it all. It began with Pederson effortlessly launching 14 homers into the seats, tied for the most in any round. To win, Frazier would need to hit more in the final round that anyone had hit all night. It didn’t look good at first. He started slow, but picked up speed. The homers came in bunches—two, three, four in a row. He tied Pederson with 12 seconds left and on his last swing, with five seconds left on the clock, he launched the ball …into the fence.
But wait! Bonus time. And on the first pitch, home run number 15. Frazier won. Cincinnati won. Major League Baseball won. And anyone who thinks baseball is boring can shut up, if only for a day.
Photos by LG Patterson/MLB Photos via Getty Images