Bryce Harper Defends Home Turf, Wins 2018 Home Run Derby

Bryce and his Dad had that backyard, boomtown, hometown chemistry working.

Bryce Harper was the obvious favorite and only brand name in the 2018 MLB Home Run Derby, so naturally, the crowd at Nationals Stadium anxiously awaited his turn to burn as the eighth and final contestant of the first round. In the end, he didn’t disappoint, edging Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber 19-18 in a dramatic final round comeback that solidified his status as a primetime player and legendary baseball entertainer.

Anthony J Machcinski on Twitter

Me after Bryce Harper hits the homer to win the derby. Yes I’m in a bar full of people and they all cheered like I did. That was awesome! https://t.co/a5ND6Szbhl

Freddie Freeman at age 28 was the oldest competitor in the Derby, which featured the youngest field of mashers in MLB history. With Harper being the lone superstar, the battle immediately became an opportunity for less heralded players to introduce themselves to the baseball world on a grand stage.

Young guns like Max Muncy who set a Dodgers record by reaching the 20 homer mark in just 183 at-bats, put some pressure on the hometown hero by slamming 17 first round homers to eliminate Chicago’s Javier Baez and advance to the semifinals

Harper actually had the least amount of home runs out of the hitters who advanced to the semifinals, but he definitely had the support of the Nationals crowd and he didn’t seem to be laboring which made you think he was pacing himself for the later rounds on a brutally hot and humid night in D.C.

Rhys Hoskins gave a valiant effort in the semifinals before falling to Schwarber 21-20 in the semifinals and setting the stage for a Harper-Muncy semis matchup that could easily have been the finals if not for the seeding.

Jayson Stark on Twitter

One of the great HR Derby rounds ever. Kyle Schwarber 21, Rhys Hoskins 20… With a Schwarber upper-decker buzzer-beater to finish it off. Tremendous.

When it comes to power, these guys are two of the leagues finest monster mashers as 14.3 percent of Muncy’s batted balls have been home runs so far this season and Harper is Harper. Muncy completed the semifinals with just 12 home runs, opening the door for Harper to skate into the finals. Before he came to the plate, the Nationals fans shouted, Lets Go Harper and dramatic music blared from the speakers.

Harper got off to a slow start but he eventually found his groove, calling a timeout with 1:33 to go and four fingers short of winning the semifinals. The” let’s go Harper” chants began again as he hit homers 11 and 12 and then walked it off with his 13th homer with 1:11 seconds to go, setting up a finals matchup that was relatively easy to predict.

After hitting a gang of homers in the first two rounds Schwarber seemed to run out gas in the finals with about 1:49 seconds left and sitting on nine homers. After his break, Schwarber was able to scrape his way to 18 homers and a Derby-high 55 for the night.

Harper started off with four homers and took a break with 2:38 left, still needing 15 homers to win it. Harper took another break with nine homers and 1:20 left. Holding his bat draped in the colors and stars and stripes of the American flag and down 5 dingers with just 25 seconds left, the phenom started ripping balls over the fence and tied Schwarber at the end of regulation.

Harper only needed one more swing to walk off and bring the Home Run Derby title home. It would have been a nice underdog story for some other player to emerge victoriously but all is right in the baseball world as Harper, the undisputed Top Dawg in this derby, wouldn’t let an upset take place on his turf.

Eric Rosenthal on Twitter

Bryce Harper walks it off to win the derby! https://t.co/wnJ8hb3aYi

I better figure it out or I’m gonna lose,”  is what Harper says went through his mind as he thought as he closed in on the competition. “I just tried to hit the ball over the fence and I did that… it’s nice.”

In 2013, Harper made the finals and was defeated. As Harper’s Dad/designated pitcher said, We didn’t want to play second fiddle to anybody.

Harper is only the third player to win in front of his home crowd. Todd Frazier won the MLB Homer Derby in 2015 in Cincinnati while playing for the Reds.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.