WASHINGTON — It had to be Kyle Schwarber.
No offense to Javy Baez, who might be the most fun-to-watch Cubs player since Ernie Banks. But if any Cub was going to light up the night in the Home Run Derby, it might as well have been Schwarber. The mythology surrounding him almost demands moments such as the one he produced Monday at Nationals Park.
Hometown hero Bryce Harper out-homered Schwarber 19-18 in an epic final. It’s more than just a nagging detail. But Schwarber more than lived up to the hype and excitement his trip here for the Derby created. His 55 total homers were the second-most in Derby history to Giancarlo Stanton’s 61 in 2016.
‘‘That moment right there was pitch-perfect,’’ Schwarber said. ‘‘What an experience for [Harper], and it was a great experience
Call him Ruthian. Call him Bunyanesque. The talk of Schwarber as a hero of long-ball tales has existed since the day he joined the Cubs in 2015.
Forget that he’s nothing like Stanton or 2017 Derby winner Aaron Judge. Those guys are enormous. Schwarber is a trimmed-down, more athletic version of the player he was before. He has become a more complete hitter this season, too.
But — who are we kidding? — the storyline that Schwarber was representing the little guy in the Derby never was going to fly.
Teammates Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant figured Schwarber would do well in a lefty-friendly park. All-Star catcher Willson Contreras admitted beforehand that he thought Schwarber would out-homer Baez.
Both Cubs tallied 16 first-round homers, which was enough for Schwarber to nip the Astros’ Alex Bregman by one but not enough for Baez to beat the Dodgers’ Max Muncy.
Schwarber won over the crowd in the semifinals with a finishing flourish that will go down in Derby lore. After the Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins put up a monstrous 20, Schwarber found himself in a deep hole in the last minute of his round. He hit his 17th with less than a half-minute to go and threw both hands in the air to exhort the crowd. Then came Nos. 18, 19 and 20 — each shot precipitating similar antics from Schwarber — and finally a winning 21st on a last-second pitch.
That he did it all with pal Mike Sinicola — a real-estate agent who occasionally throws batting practice to Schwarber in Tampa, Florida — pitching only makes the tale taller.
After Schwarber’s final round ended, he tipped his cap to the crowd and hugged Baez and Contreras.
‘‘There was nothing left in the tank,’’ he said. ‘‘I gassed it all out.’’
Then Harper went to work — slowly at first. Nearly three minutes into his four-minute round, Harper had only nine homers. In true superstar form, however, he went bonkers from there. Red confetti fell.
Schwarber was trying to become the Cubs’ first Derby winner since Sammy Sosa in 2000. Ryne Sandberg won it in 1990 and Andre Dawson in 1987.