NEW YORK (AP) — Pete Alonso reached for a fastball on the outer part of the plate and sent it soaring just to the right of straightaway center field. He held the handle of his bat and slowly took eight short steps toward first base, his face expressionless, eyes fixed on the ball.
He followed its path into the first row of seats, 415 feet away, then started his trot and raised both arms, index fingers pointed skyward. On the next-to-last day of his first major league season, he hit his 53rd home run to break the rookie record Yankees star Aaron Judge set in 2017.
“There’s just euphoria and magic,” Alonso said . “It was like an out-of-body experience, almost. I felt like I wasn’t standing in the box alone.”
A 24-year-old with a prematurely receding hairline and a rapidly ascending career, Alonso earned extended standing ovations from the adoring crowd of 32,210 at Citi Field during the New York Mets’ 3-0 win over the playoff-bound Atlanta Braves on Saturday night.
Alonso broke out his wide smile when he crossed home plate and exchanged a slap and hug with teammate Robinson Canó. Others celebrated with him in front of the dugout
Alonso raised both arms again, tilted his head back and looked to the sky.
And then when he went to first base for the fourth inning, he pursed his lips, exhaled deeply, blinked over and over and dabbed at his eyes, his cheeks glistening with sweat and tears.
“I was just kind of thinking about all the greats in the game of baseball. I was thinking about guys like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, guys like Aaron Judge,” Alonso said, “and the fact that I’m ahead of those guys as a rookie, it’s mind-blowing.”
Third baseman Todd Frazier, who coined Alonso’s nickname Polar Bear during spring training, told the rookie to let out his emotions.
“He had trouble rolling grounders in-between innings there,” manager Mickey Callaway said.
.A night after tying Judge’s record, Alonso launched a 93 mph fastball on a 1-2 count from former All-Star Mike Foltynewicz (8-6). The solo shot in the third boosted the lead to 3-0 and followed a two-run homer earlier in the inning by light-hitting backup catcher René Rivera.
“When he puts it in play, you’re holding your breath,” Foltynewicz said. “He just hits the ball so damn hard. He kind of just reminds me of Bryce Harper.”
Alonso’s mom, Michelle, and dad, Pete, watched from the stands with the player’s fiancee, Haley Renee, who recorded a video of the plate appearance.
The ball was caught by a father attending the game with his wife and three kids. The family gave the ball to Alonso and met with the Home Run Derby champion after the game, receiving autographed memorabilia.
Alonso, who has 120 RBIs, thought back to April 1, when he hit his first big league home run at Miami in his fourth game. Teammates dumped him into a laundry cart for a rookie hazing ritual.
“I felt like yesterday I was getting raw eggs put on my head, mustard, flour, soap, mouthwash, whatever anybody could find,” he said. “And 52 later it’s just crazy. That seems like forever.”
Not even assured a roster spot at the start of spring training, Alonso heads into the final day of the regular season leading the majors in homers, four ahead of Cincinnati’s Eugenio Suárez. No rookie since 1900 has won an outright home run title in the big leagues.
“Pretty cool accomplishment,” Judge said after the Yankees’ game in Texas.
He offered to take Alonso to dinner in the offseason — on Judge’s dime.
“He’s paying for it? Oh, dang,” Alonso said. “Is he picking where we’re eating or am I picking? I’ll talk to him. But if he’s picking the place, it’s probably McDonald’s or something, because I eat a lot. But if I get to pick and it’s on him, then it may be like Peter Luger.”
Steven Matz (11-10) allowed two hits and five walks in six innings, finishing with a winning record for the first time since his first full season in 2016. Jeurys Familia, Brad Brach and Edwin Díaz finished the three-hitter. Diaz struck out two in a perfect ninth for his 26th save in 33 chances, his first save since Aug. 15 — also against the Braves.
Atlanta’s playoff rotation lines up to have left-hander Dallas Keuchel (8-8) start the opener, with Foltynewicz and rookie right-hander Mike Soroka (13-4) likely to follow.
Former Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who may be among the candidates to replace Callaway if the Mets make a change, was at Citi Field broadcasting for Fox.
Atlanta 1B Freddie Freeman was 1 for 3 with a walk and two strikeouts, a day after returning from four days off to rest his sore right elbow. Freeman has not homered since Sept. 1 and entered in a 2-for-31 slide.
Braves: OF Ronald Acuña Jr., who hasn’t played since Tuesday because of a tight left hip, will take batting practice for three days starting Monday and will run Wednesday, a day before the Division Series opener. …. OF Ender Inciarte, who last played Aug. 16 because of a strained right hamstring that still causes discomfort, returned to Atlanta to be examined and “he’ll be down for the foreseeable future,” manager Bran Snitker said. … Utilityman Johan Camargo, out since fouling a ball off his right shin on Sept. 11, also will miss the Division Series.
Mets: OF-INF Jeff McNeil expects to have surgery Tuesday, six days after the ulna bone in his right hand broke when he was hit by a pitch from Miami’s Josh Smith.
Soroka (13-4) goes Sunday for the Braves in a tuneup for his playoff start. RHP Noah Syndergaard (10-8) pitches for the Mets.
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