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Adley Rutschman Vs. Luis Robert Was So Much Fun

Adley Rutschman and Luis Robert face off before the 2023 Home Run Derby.
Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. beat Randy Arozarena to win the 2023 Home Run Derby in an entertaining final round on Monday night, but after it was all over, I was still thinking about the first-round matchup between Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and White Sox outfielder Luis Robert Jr. The showdown between those two felt like the best part of the whole event.

Outside of Mookie Betts, who participated to cross it off his bucket list but was brutally candid about his chances, all of the Derby contestants put up respectable numbers. Hometown favorite Julio Rodriguez bashed 41 first-round homers, and two-time winner Pete Alonso's total of 21 wasn't nearly enough. Adolis García, who faced Arozarena to start, hit some nice dingers but went cold at the end. Vlad Jr. didn't need to work too hard against Betts, whose own mother had her doubts. The most compelling matchup was the one that sounded like an archaic legal precedent: Rutschman v. Robert.

Rutschman went first, taking pitches from his father Randy, and smashed 21 homers in three minutes from the left side. Then before his extra time began, he went to the other side of the plate to hit righty. The crowd roared in approval as Rutschman cracked six more home runs off the eight pitches he saw. It was so cool.

Everyone was still abuzz from Rutschman's performance when Robert started to take his pitches from White Sox bullpen catcher Luis Sierra, and initially he seemed like an afterthought. But as ESPN announcer Karl Ravech mentioned on the broadcast, Robert has "easy power," and it was in evidence.

The reason to watch the Home Run Derby is for the home runs, obviously, but the timed rounds also offer an opportunity to study the stances and swings of these hitters. That many cuts in such a short window allows you to focus on the details in a different way than in a regular-season plate appearance. Rutschman had a more open stance and was clearly putting his back into every cut. Robert was more square, and it seemed like he was operating at 75 percent. Of course, it only looked that effortless because of his strength and mechanics, and after Robert took his timeout with 1:27 left, he was cruising. Some of those balls flew out to center with ease. Robert had an extra minute to hit one more homer than Rutschman, and got it over with quickly.

The different approaches to socking some dingers were both effective and made for riveting TV. The timed, single-elimination bracket has been part of the format since 2015, so it's no longer novel, but this was a great showcase for it. Robert lost to Arozarena in the second round, but he should be pleased with his first Derby appearance. Rutschman, too. They're both young enough that they'll be back, if we're lucky.

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