Although the Los Angeles Dodgers did not have a participant in the 2021 Home Run Derby, this year’s event still featured some of the biggest sluggers in all of baseball, including L.A. Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani earned the No. 1 seed after concluding the period for which the bracket was determined with a Major League-leading 32 home runs. He matched up against Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto in the first round, who entered the contest as the No. 8 seed.
Soto took his swings first and wound up hitting a respectable 22 home runs. As Ohtani stepped into the batter’s box, it came with plenty of fanfare.
Many expected the 27-year-old to make quick work of Soto, but he initially struggled to elevate the ball as his first nine swings did not result in a home run. Ohtani used an early timeout and reportedly received a phone call from Angels teammate Mike Trout.
While that was the assumption, Justin Turner has since cleared things up and revealed on a recent episode of the “Holding Kourt Podcast” that Albert Pujols was who passed along words of encouragement and advice to Ohtani:
“I do have an enormous spoiler, because they made a big deal out of this. In the middle of Ohtani’s round he got a phone call. Everyone is like, ‘Oh, Mike Trout called Ohtani!’ It was not Mike Trout. It was actually Albert Pujols. Albert called him in the middle and told him to stop trying to pull the ball and hit the ball to the middle of the field. He looked like he was just trying to yank homers as far as he could.
“The first minute and a half, he pulled every single ball foul. And Albert called him. Albert called him and told him to stop trying to pull everything. Like, dude, you have juice to left-center. Hit the ball to the middle of the field. I don’t know if it worked or not, but he took off and started hitting a bunch of homers after that.”
The advice Pujols lended proved to be beneficial as Ohtani found his groove and forced overtime against Soto. The two remained tied after an extra minute of hitting, resulting in a three-swing swing-off.
Excitement at Coors Field continued to build as Soto went 3-for-3, which was enough to eliminate Ohtani on his first swing.
Pujols: Playing for Dodgers ‘most fun I’ve had in a while’
Since signing with the Dodgers in the middle of May, Pujols has emerged as a valuable leader inside the clubhouse while increasing his production on the field. “This is the most fun I’ve had in a while,” Pujols said last month.
“I can be really intimidating sometimes because of the way I stay so focused on the game, and they see a part of me that they can come and approach me whether I’m playing in the game or not. Just come and talk baseball, life, parenting or whatever it is.
“I believe that’s why God has put me here, and I’m enjoying every moment. Being with this young talent, it’s just unbelievable.”
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