SEATTLE — The hug was everything.
It was the joy of this moment, of captivating the T-Mobile Park crowd with 27 first-round home runs. It was relief, too, that everything had gone without a hitch. It was pure love — for baseball and family and how both can go hand-in-hand.
It was father and son, living out their long-shared dream.
The embrace between Adley and Randy Rutschman at the end of their Home Run Derby display commingled all of that into a moment they’ve both imagined and have now finally experienced. It began when Adley was just a little boy during batting practice sessions with his dad and led here, to his first All-Star Game appearance, to the roars when each of his seven bonus-time homers soared off his bat.
Rutschman put a captivating performance in the first round of MLB’s Home Run Derby on Monday night, and he did it from both sides of the plate. The Orioles’ switch-hitting catcher launched 20 homers in his initial three minutes of action, then decided to take hacks from the right side for his 30-second bonus round.
The result? Eight swings, seven homers.
Rutschman’s rollicking display in the opening round set the bar early and issued a clear challenge for Chicago White Sox outfielder Luis Robert Jr., the No. 1 seed.
Robert answered the call.
Rutschman hit 27 home runs total. Robert hit 28.
“He had a tough draw there for his first matchup,” Orioles outfielder Austin Hays said. “He did everything he could’ve done. He switched over to the right side in bonus time, I don’t know if that’s ever been done before. That might’ve made history.”
The 25-year-old Rutschman said on the ESPN broadcast that he and his dad, Randy, decided spur of the moment to switch which side he was hitting from. He hugged his dad during the break between regulation and bonus time, then came back as a righty. The result was astounding to watch, with an overflow of home runs sending the fans in the left-field upper deck scattering after balls faster than they could track them.
Still, Robert won the first-round meeting, ending Rutschman’s night even though he produced more homers than Randy Arozarena (24) or Adolis Garcia (18) in their first-round matchup.
“He did an excellent job,” Orioles right-hander Yennier Cano said in Spanish. “In reality he had to face a difficult opponent. We’re proud of him and I think Baltimore has to be proud of him, too.”
Toronto Blue Jays star Vladamir Guerrero Jr. won the event, topping Arozarena in the final. Those fireworks came long after Rutschman’s own effort, which featured ample back-to-back shots and the rush of his switch-hitting decision.
That wasn’t the important part, though. As Hays watched with his 2-year-old son, Levi, from the field, he recognized how special a moment it was to have Rutschman hit off his dad.
“They were sitting right in front of me when they were done, on a big league field in a Home Run Derby,” Hays said. “Just dream of being able to do something like that one day when I’m older, just something you would write a movie about.”
Hours earlier, when Rutschman could only prognosticate what might occur Monday evening, he emphasized how he only wanted to have fun. This was something he and his dad have pretended to compete in for years, after all.
“We’ve had so many BP sessions, so many fake Home Run Derby games — he’s always been the guy,” Rutschman said.
“We had played this fantasy out quite a few times in our life,” Randy added.
It led to that hug, that moment when the world was all around but to them, there was only father and son.
The pre-Derby scene: Can Adley do it?
Austin Hays sees it every day in batting practice.
His Orioles teammates just might abandon their proper approaches for one or two swings. The goal? Launch a monstrous shot into the bleachers.
If Hays had to create a Home Run Derby with just Orioles players, Ryan Mountcastle would be first on his list. Anthony Santander and Adley Rutschman, of course, deserve to be there. To round it out, after some deliberation with a reporter, the fourth and final spot would go to Gunnar Henderson.
Who would win in that group is impossible to predict in the hypothetical realm. But Hays saw the 461-foot rocket shot of a home run Rutschman crushed in Sunday’s series finale against the Minnesota Twins as an apt example of what Rutschman can do to a ball. And when asked what he expects from Rutschman in Monday night’s Home Run Derby (8 p.m. on ESPN), all Hays had to do was reference that blast.
“He’s primed and ready to go, now,” Hays said.
The expectations vary. Rutschman, forever soft-spoken, has emphasized how fun it will be to live out a long-held dream he and his father, Randy, shared since Adley was little. No matter how the father-son duo does, Rutschman said “we’ll laugh.”
“We’re just trying to enjoy it, do our best and put on a good show,” Rutschman said.
His fellow All-Star teammates believe in Rutschman’s ability to do more than just have fun. Right-hander Yennier Cano said Rutschman could hit 25, 26 or even more home runs in his round, although with Rutschman set to face No. 1 seed Luis Robert Jr. of the White Sox, it’s a tough challenge.
“It’s Rutschman against a Cuban guy, so I’m not choosing any sides,” Cano said through team interpreter Brandon Quinones with a laugh, acknowledging his own Cuban heritage as a pull. Rutschman, a No. 8 seed, will have his work cut out for him.
Robert has 26 homers this year, and the outfielder’s maximum exit velocity is in the top 12% of baseball, according to Statcast. Rutschman has 12 homers, and the catcher’s hard-hit percentage this year is 29.
That’s why they play the game — er, Home Run Derby. Anything can happen in a bracket setting.
“With his caliber of swing, I mean, he can do well at anything,” said Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Mitch Keller. “When we approach him as a hitter, it’s a difficult matchup. You’re trying to throw him everything you can to keep him off balance. I think BP fastballs will do him quite well today. You don’t want to throw it right there, because he has the power, for sure.”
Rutschman said he plans to start by hitting left-handed, the side of the plate from which he has hit nine of his homers this year. He’s open to switching to right-handed swings if the opportunity calls for it.
This is something Adley and Randy Rutschman have done for most of their lives. They’ve participated in mock Home Run Derbies at high school and college fields around their home in Sherwood, Oregon. Now, up the road, Randy will take the mound and throw to his son again — just with more eyes watching.
“It’s trying to figure out what zone my dad wants to throw me in and trying to pick out a spot on the field — right-center, whatever it is — and trying to drive the ball through there,” Rutschman said.
But beyond that, Rutschman doesn’t have some grand plan. He last participated in a Home Run Derby when he was a kid playing in a youth tournament. He’s more focused on his dad, and any dingers to go with it are a bonus.
“Mostly go have fun,” Rutschman said. “Try to hit the ball over the fence.”