SAN DIEGO -- From the moment we first laid eyes on him, didn't we know this was coming? From the first baseball we saw him pound halfway to Saturn, we said to ourselves: That dude Giancarlo Stanton is going to hit 60 home runs someday.
What we never imagined, though, was this. We never imagined there would come a time when Giancarlo Stanton would hit 61 home runs in one day.
But then came Monday evening, in a ballpark where home run balls were supposed to go to die. Instead, Petco Park would become the place where the legend of the great Giancarlo was born, in a Home Run Derby show that will shine on forever. And why does it feel as though we will never look at him the same again?
"He hit 61 home runs in 13½ minutes?" gulped the pitcher who served up those 61 home runs, Miami Marlins coach Pat Shine. "That's almost inhuman."
Inhuman. Superhuman. Whatever. It definitely wasn't human. Mere humans don't do the things that the Marlins' larger-than-life rocket launcher did on this night. And we're talking about things like this:
• In the 30-year history of the Home Run Derby, exactly two men had ever hit 20 homers in a single round: Josh Hamilton in Yankee Stadium in 2008 and Bobby Abreu in Detroit in 2005. Then along came Stanton -- to have two rounds like that in one night. With 24 in Round 1. And 20 more in the finals. Seriously?
• The record for most total home runs in any of the first 30 Derbies was 41, by Abreu. It took Stanton a mere two rounds to tie that one.
• The last time the Derby was held in San Diego, there were 40 homers hit in the entire event. Stanton hit more than by himself -- in nine minutes (over two rounds).
• Sammy Sosa took part in six different Home Run Derbies and hit a total of 65 homers. Stanton almost matched him in one night.
• Yoenis Cespedes won back-to-back Derbies, in 2013 and '14. He hit 60 home runs in the two of them combined, and it was enough to brand him as one of his sport's most feared sluggers. Stanton just hit more homers in one epic Derby than Cespedes hit in his two combined.
Ridiculous, friends. Just ridiculous. But it wasn't merely the sheer number of baseballs Stanton hit that this ballpark wasn't large enough to hold. It was where they landed, how far they flew, the sound they made, the objects they cleared -- hedges and palm trees, billboards and batter's eyes.
He hit more than 27,000 feet worth of home runs. His average homer soared an incredible 447 feet. He mashed five that traveled 490 feet or longer, 10 that went 480 or longer and 31 that carried 450 or longer. He hit the 10 longest home runs of the entire event. He hit 18 of the 19 longest. All by himself. How is that possible?
"I don't think anybody understands what he just did," said Oakland catcher Stephen Vogt, who admitted he stuck around all three hours just to watch Stanton hit. "That's superhuman. He was hitting every single ball well over 400 feet. I was actually scared for the kids in the field on some of the low line drives he was hitting. It's not normal to be able to create that much bat speed and hit the ball that far. It was very impressive and incredible. The first three rows in the stands were not safe."
But if you think it was terrifying for the folks who were watching it from 450 feet away, imagine what it was like to watch this exhibition from 60 feet, 6 inches away. Only Pat Shine understood that feeling. He shook his head when he was asked to describe it.
"The sound of his bat, to be honest, when I throw to him, is just so much different than other guys," Shine said. "It's loud. It's violent. It's a violent act. And he's intense. So it's fun for about a split second. Then it's on to the next pitch."
Both Shine and Stanton's teammates saw a look in Stanton's eye on this night that told just as important a story as his home run highlight reel. He didn't have to be here. Remember that. He had a rough first half. He didn't make the All-Star team. So he flew 3,000 miles just for this.
"So I figured it's a waste of time," he said, gazing at his championship trophy, "if I don't bring this bad boy home."
He had rearranged his schedule and his life. For this one night. For this one event. For this one opportunity to make a Ruthian statement about who and what he is. Is it safe to say we got the message?
"I think this was one of the things that he wanted to do," said his teammate A.J. Ramos. "Last year, he didn't get to be here. He was hurt. And when he was in it his first time [in 2014], he didn't compete like he wanted to. And this year, not making the All-Star team, you knew he really wanted to put on a show."
"I don't think anybody understands what he just did. That's superhuman. He was hitting every single ball well over 400 feet. I was actually scared for the kids in the field on some of the low line drives he was hitting. It's not normal to be able to create that much bat speed and hit the ball that far. It was very impressive and incredible. The first three rows in the stands were not safe." A's catcher Stephen Vogt
Hey, ya think? Stanton has always had a special affection for the Home Run Derby, always talked about it with a reverence that not everyone in his sport shares. Mark McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr. and David Ortiz once made his memories. Now it was Stanton's turn to make someone else's memories.
"I grew up watching this," he said. "That's where you built it up, childhood memories of. Now I will have kids saying the same thing. They watched me do this. I like to return the favor."
He returned it with back-to-back-to-back rounds unlike anyone has ever had, in any Derby ever staged. He blew away one former champion, Robinson Cano, 24-12, in the first round. He wiped out the leading home run hitter of the year, Mark Trumbo, 17-14, in the second. Then he crushed the defending champ, Todd Frazier, 20-13, in the third.
"What's amazing is the ability to do it round after round," Marlins president David Samson said. "What you normally see in the Home Run Derby is exhaustion set in. With Giancarlo, exhaustion is not part of his repertoire. And that's what differentiates him. He eats bananas and grilled cheese. So for me, that's the ultimate elixir."
If it is, it's one Frazier might consider adapting next year, because even a half-hour after the event, he was having trouble digesting what he'd just seen from the man who beat him.
"He wasn't even using his back leg," Frazier would say afterward, incredulous over what he'd just witnessed. "It's unbelievable. It was majestic."
Frazier loves the Derby himself. Loves competing with the other mortals who take part in it. But when he looks at Stanton, he's not even sure he sees someone from the same planet he lives on.
"It's a different beast," Frazier said. "You look at him and talk to him and you hear his voice. It's a deep voice. You're like, 'Oh man, I didn't know that was coming out.' It's like the guy in that movie '300.' You're like, 'That's the guy we've got to take down or we're in trouble.' We couldn't take him down."
Since the moment Giancarlo Stanton took his first mighty swing in the big leagues back in 2010, we've been waiting for this. Finally, on one astounding evening, he left a powerful imprint -- of what he can do and what he just might become.
"I think we all knew what he was capable of," Shine said. "And now it's there. I think this is good for baseball, to have him be the home run king. I'm not taking anything away from those other guys. But I think he's the perfect guy to take over the trophy. It was like the stars were lined up a little bit, for somebody who is capable of doing anything in this game. He's capable of doing things that nobody has ever done."
And on this indelible night of Home Run Derby heroics, that's exactly what Giancarlo Stanton did.