I love London. It’s a vibrant, ecclectic city, with a perfect mix of the super historic and cutting edge all jumbled together to house its international population. Similar in many ways to New York, this European capital is certainly a perfect place to kick off the MLB’s push for a more international presence. Regular season games have been played in Asia and Latin America, host countries/regions that provide quite a few current MLB stars. An expansion of the game in a city that’s hosted games for other American professional sports seems like a natural progression for America’s pastime.
New York and Boston were rather logical choices to be the teams to play in the inaugural series in England. First, their rivalry is unmatched in sports, even in a country that boasts some of the wildest rivalries and extreme fanaticism for sports. Second, you really can’t avoid the Revolutionary War-era smack-talk between the British Empire and its former Colonial strongholds. (At least those of us who are also big history nerds.)
A quick history review: Boston was the closest city to where it all began, hosting the battles of Lexington and Concord and the site of the Boston Massacre to really kick of the War. And New York was occupied by the British for much of the War, while Washington set-up one of his most famous spy rings within the city that involved Benedict Arnold’s traitorship and uncovering Cornwallis’ plans at Yorktown that actually won the War.
Now, of course, nearly two and a half centuries later, the US-UK relationship is one of close allies. So, when American baseball comes to Great Britain, 120,000 tickets sell out their stadium. Fans all over braved the heat wave that’s sweeping Europe right now to sit through a four hour and forty-two minute game at London Stadium, the home of one of those Premier League clubs and former Olympic Stadium from summer 2012.
And for fans who’d never witnessed a rivalry game between the two legendary teams, the teams certainly delivered. We can definitely blame the fact that the field was quite different, with shorter distances in the outfield to the fence and a really big foul space that had all the outfielders covering much more ground than usual.
Based on the schedule, the Red Sox were chosen as the home team, though both teams wore their home white uniforms. (Who doesn’t want to see the Yankees in their famous pinstripes?) That meant that the Yankees were up to bat first, and they quickly became the answer to many trivia questions that start with “who is the first player in the inaugural European baseball game to…”
DJ LeMahieu led-off the game with a single (the 1st hit), and Sanchez worked a 1-out walk. Then a trio of doubles got the runs rolling — Luke Voit’s scored LeMahieu (the 1st RBI/run scored), Didi Gregorious‘ scored both Sanchez and Voit, and Edwin Encarnacion’s scored Gregorius. Then Aaron Hicks smacked a big 2-run home run (the 1st homer) to push the Yankees into a big early lead and end the Red Sox’s starter’s night too early. The new pitcher was able to close it out without further damage, with LeMahieu striking out to end the inning (1st strikeout).
But there’s no rivalry without some major drama, and the Red Sox certainly gave their best performance to match. Masahiro Tanaka got the start and seemed to mirror the struggles the Sox’s starter had, also unable to make it out of the 1st inning. He gave up a single that scored on a double and then a pair of walks to load up the bases. After an infield fly pop-up, he got a sacrifice fly that scored the lead runner. But a RBI single was followed by a big 3-run home run up the middle to suddenly tie up the game.
Tanaka trudged back to the dugout as Chad Green came out for relief. Green was assumed to start tomorrow’s game as the “opener”, but with his two-inning outing tonight, the Yankees are making other plans. Green got out of the first and kept the Red Sox scoreless into 3rd. Hale continued this momentum into the 4th before handing the ball to Nestor Cortes Jr for long-term relief in the middle innings.
In the mean time, the Yankees came back to find their opportunities to reclaim their early lead. With 2 outs in the 3rd, Torres singled and then scored as part of Brett Gardner’s 2-run home run into the right field seats. Then in the 4th, Voit led-off with a double, and Gregorius walked. Two outs later, Torres’ single loaded up the bases, and Gardner’s walk scored Voit. DJ LeMahieu then hit a bases-clearing double before scoring as part of Aaron Judge’s big 2-run home run.
Voit led-off the 5th with a double, but injured himself in the race to 2nd and was pinch-run by Urshela. Urshela took 3rd on a wild pitch and scored on Didi Gregorius’ single. After a strikeout out and pitching change, Hicks singled, and both runners moved up on a wild pitch. Torres’ walk loaded the bases, and LeMahieu (who else?) singled home Gregorius and Hicks to cap off the Yankees’ massive scoring today.
Back at the mound, Cortes was doing just fine for most of his outing, despite giving up a 1st pitch lead-off solo homer in the 6th. With 2 outs in the 7th, he gave up consecutive singles that scored on a 3-run home run. After giving up another single (rather than getting that 3rd out), the Yankees called in Tommy Kahnle, but he too had some trouble, unable to get an out. He gave up a walk, a wild pitch to move runners to scoring position, an RBI single, and a walk on a wild pitch that scored one more run.
It was Adam Ottavino’s turn. After an RBI double, he got the necessary out to close out that messy inning, but some allowed baserunners in the 8th had the Yankees calling for Britton. He loaded up the bases and still got out of the jam before Chapman needed just 8 pitches and a snazzy double play to close out the 9th inning and the game.
Cue the fireworks. Cue Frank Sinatra.
Final score: 17-13 Yankees
Injury update: Luke Voit did injure himself on that 5th inning double. He came out of the game after seeming to limp from 1st to 2nd and then back to the dugout. But the Yankees later revealed a tightness in his core muscles just below his navel. One of the broadcasters surmised it might be a cramp due to dehydration and the heat, and now I find myself hoping for this, which should heal overnight with hydration and rest. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
For the last two days, the American teams have enjoyed connecting with their English fans. On Thursday, the Yankees ran baseball clinics in a local park and gave away tons of free equipment to local clubs. On Friday, the teams worked out at the stadium, getting used to its weird dimensions and artificial turf, before many of them explored the city for sightseeing. In addition, a group of players met with athletes from the Invictus Games to host an adaptive baseball clinic. There was also a special welcome dinner for the teams at the historic Tower of London.
Before tonight’s game, both teams got a special visit from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (also known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle). The Yankees presented the Duchess (who is also an American) with a special team jersey emblazoned with “Archie” and “19” on it for their infant son born earlier this year. The Sussexes (as they are called) are patrons for the Invictus Games, an organization that allows wounded servicemen and women to compete athletically, and the Games were appointed the Official Charity Sponsor of this special series in London. The royal couple escorted some of those special athletes and their families to the mound before the game to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
On a final “note” (pun intended), the Kingdom Choir sang beautiful renditions of both national anthems before unfurled flags held by each country’s service men. If you are a royal watcher or anglophile, you might remember this outstanding choir from the Sussexes’ wedding last year. They’re truly amazing.