Sports Baseball

MLB ALL-STAR

Case closed: Yankees' Judge wins MLB home run derby

By Rob Longley, Toronto Sun

MIAMI — As a lifelong student of the baseball swing, Canadian Joey Votto has a pretty good idea of what propels a ball out of the park.

But when it comes to Aaron Judge, the emerging giant of the game, the Etobicoke, Ont., native has joined the masses and is in awe.

As the baseball world zoomed in its season-long buzz around the New York Yankees phenom to Marlins Park for the home run derby on Monday, the Judge ruled. The 6-foot-7, 280 pound rookie crushed the baseball and his competition to become the undisputed king of the long ball.

“To me, he’s got a really quick swing and it’s almost like he should be playing in a ball park that is 20% bigger because he is so skilled and strong,” said Votto, a prodigious hitter himself. “It’s like a combination of quickness but also has a directness to it.

“It’s a swing that with very little tinkering is going to have a chance to produce success for many years to come.”

All that skill and power was on display in the crowd-pleasing Derby when Judge lived up to his billing and dominated, defeating Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins 11-10 the final.

How impressive was Judge? Before the final, he already had belted shots of 501, 504, 507 and 513 feet and had the win with more than two minutes remaining in the final.

Besides the length of so many of his blasts, Judge seemingly used every inch of Marlins Park. There were pull hits just inside the foul pole, deep, deep power moves to centre and a pile of opposite-field winners as well.

And in the end, it wasn’t a competition as much as it was a show.

“I had a lot of fun, there were lot of good guys out there,” the 25-year-old Judge said. “I hope the fans enjoyed the show. This is awesome.”

Enjoy it they did, though the road to the title was made easier for Judge when home-town here and defending champion Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins fell to Judge’s Yankee teammate, Gary Sanchez, in the first round.

Judge’s sensational rookie season took him to the all-star break with 30 home runs putting him on pace to crush Mark McGwire’s major-league rookie record of 49.

How did Judge get so good, so fast and make such a seamless transition to the best pro league in the world?

“Just a lot of changes with my approach,” Judge said. “A couple of things with my swing, making surer my barrel stays through the zone as long as possible.”

And seconds before the ball departs the park.

FOR SALE

When American League manager Brad Mills named Chris Sale his starter for Tuesday’s game, he became the 16th pitcher to make consecutive all-star starts and the first for the AL since former Blue Jay Dave Stieb got the nod in 1983-84. Washington’s Max Scherzer will start for the National League.

Like many big-league pitchers, Sale said he has had to adjust his approach to deal with the bombardment of home runs this season. If the pace continues, the season will end with a record 130 players recording 20 homers or more.

“The way I’ve been looking at it, ball is flying for whatever reason,” Sale said. “That’s really something that’s been a thorn in my side. I’ve had to become a better pitcher, locate better.

“Because of the home-run spike, I’ve dialled it in even more to try to make my location better and prevent them. I think that’s made me a better pitcher.”

SMOAK SHOW

Like Blue Jays teammate Roberto Osuna, Jays first baseman Justin Smoak was soaking up the experience of his first all-star game appearance during Monday’s workout day.

Smoak, who was voted as the AL’s starting first baseman, will bat sixth in the AL order.

“It’s hard to put into words, really,” Smoak said. “I worked hard to get to this point and I’m just trying to take in as much as I can. Hopefully I can get a hit and a couple of good at bats.”

With a career-high 23 home runs, Smoak is pleased to have reached a point he always expected of himself.

“I always felt deep down I was good enough player to play in the big leagues,” Smoak said. “I had periods where I was an all star for two weeks, then I’d have three weeks where I was the worst player in the game.”

CUB FLUBS

National League manager Joe Maddon said it was a sheepish feeling when he was presented with his all-star uniform at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Sunday with his Cubs players looking on from the dugout.

A year ago, the Cubs entered the break with a 53-35 record and had four starters named to the game on their march to the World Series. This year the record is 43-35 and not one player was voted to Maddon’s starting roster.

“It was an awkward moment for me accepting my jersey in front of our entire team at Wrigley Field,” Maddon said.

“I’m only here because of the players, really good players. It was different.”

According to ESPN Stats, the Cubs were the first team to have at least four starters one year and none the following campaign since the 1981-82 New York Yankees.

BIG BOY BATS

Both Smoak and Votto were invited to participate in the Derby and both politely declined.

With the likes of Judge and Stanton duking it out, they were content to observe from their respective dugouts.

“I’ve been invited twice and I’ve declined twice,” said Votto. “I homer when I want. If (he went in it) almost for sure I’d get hurt. I never hit like that. I try and save it for the game.”

Meanwhile, Smoak cited his dodgy batting practice form.

“I did get asked but I told them if you saw my BP you wouldn’t want me to do it,” Smoak said. “I feel like I’ll take it all in. I’m excited to be a spectator to be honest and to sit back and watch these guys hit it as far as they do.”

KEEP WAITING, MONTREAL

Major League Baseball is well aware that Montreal wants to return to their world. MLB may even think it’s a good idea. But even if that’s the case, it won’t be happening any time soon.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said any thought of expansion is on hold until the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays get new stadiums.

“I think it would be difficult to convince the owners to go forward with an expansion until those situations are resolved,” Manfred said. “Once they’re done, I think we have some great candidates.

“I know the mayor of Montreal (Denis Coderre) has been very vocal about bringing baseball back to Montreal. It was not great when the Expos left. The fact of the matter was baseball was successful in Montreal for a very long time. Charlotte is a possibility. And I would like to think that Mexico City or some place in Mexico would be another possibility.”

QUICK HITS

One of the major topics of conversation around Marlins Park was the allegedly juiced baseball. Smoak was asked how many of his teammates on the Jays pitching staff believe that’s the case. “Every one of them,” Smoak deadpanned … During a break in the home run derby action, Canada’s Noah Naylor fell 5-2 to American Nolan Gorman in the final of the high school HR derby. Naylor, of Mississauga, Ont., is the younger brother of San Diego Padres prospect Josh Naylor.

rlongley@postmedia.com