The Yankees technically split their season in half in London, ending their first 81 games with a win last night and starting their next 81 games with a win this afternoon. There’s rarely anything “normal” about rivalry games between the Yankees and Red Sox, but add in the weird stadium, 5 hours ahead in time zones, and 60,000 British fans, and there’s a whole new level of “not normal”.
London Stadium was originally built for the 2012 Summer Olympics to host the track and field competition before it was converted to be the home of the West Ham Football (Soccer) Club. The pitch (the field) was covered by imported turf from France, the padding to create the outfield space and boundaries of the diamond came from Canada, and the infield dirt was hauled in from Pennsylvania — a truly international experience.
For all the talk of the short outfield walls (just 385 feet to dead center field), the most complicated part for fielders were the way the sun came into the condensed oval, partially blocked by scaffolding to eliminate wind. This also, however, created very strange shadows and the glare of the sun off the dead white of the roofing. Both teams seemed to struggle both days with finding the ball when it was hit in the air. This certainly made the difference today when less of the balls were leaving the playing field and instead being popped up short.
The Yankees opted to go with an “opener” today, calling on reliever Stephen Tarpley to make his first MLB start. Between nerves and the unfamiliar setting, Tarpley struggled his way through that 1st inning. With 1 out, he gave up a single that scored on a 2-run home run. The next batter smacked a big solo home run, and one out later, the Red Sox got yet another solo home run to give them a nice early lead.
After a scoreless 1st for the Yankees (which seemed odd compared to the show yesterday) and the Red Sox coming in strong, the Yankees found their first opportunity to strike in the 2nd. They loaded up the bases with Encarnacion’s lead-off walk, Gregorius’ single, and Torres’ walk. Gio Urshela hit into a force out at 2nd that scored Encarnacion, and Brett Gardner’s single scored Gregorius to get the Yankees on the board, with half the Sox’s score.
Meanwhile, the game suddenly became fairly “normal”. The Red Sox’s starter was fairly dominant, throwing strong into the 6th inning and limiting the Yankees to their 2nd inning score. The Yankee relievers found a good momentum too. Cessa threw 4 strong scoreless innings before handing the ball to Adam Ottavino for a quick 11-pitch 6th, and Kahnle followed that will an 11-pitch 7th.
The Yankees finally found their next chance to advance in the 7th. LeMahieu led-off with a double, and after Judge’s walk, LeMahieu scored on Aaron Hicks’ double. Gary Sanchez’s long single scored both Judge and Hicks to put the Yankees in the lead. With no outs, the Sox went to their bullpen. The new reliever promptly walked Encarnacion and gave up a 1-out single to Torres to load up the bases. And Gio Urshela singled home both Sanchez and Encarnacion.
But that’s not all. With another new reliever on the mound, Brett Gardner worked a walk to load the bases, and DJ LeMahieu smacked a ground-rule double into the right field seats to score Torres and Urshela. Judge was intentionally walked to load the bases yet again. Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly scored Gardner, and a fielding error on Gary Sanchez’s at-bat scored LeMahieu. The Yankees sent up 14 batters that frame alone and scored a season-high 9 runs.
Finally, Didi Gregorius led-off the 8th with a solo home run. This kept the Yankees’ streak alive with 31 consecutive games with a home run. Now, with an 8-run lead, the Yankees needed to just keep the status quo and sail to the end of the game. But no way were the Red Sox going to go quietly into the night.
Yankees’ reliever Chance Adams came in for the 8th, but he really had some trouble keeping those Red Sox’s bats quiet. With 1 out, he gave up consecutive singles. After another out, a wild pitch moved runners into scoring position which they did on another single. After yet another single, a double into the corner scored the lead runner. That would be it for Adams.
Zack Britton came in to try to stop the Sox’s advance, but he gave up a single that scored one more run. Still looking for that final out of the inning, he ended up walking the next batter and loading up the bases. The tying run coming to the plate, Britton dug deep and got a grounder to end the inning and get out of the jam, owing much of his success, like many of today’s pitchers, to the stellar defense today. (See the snazzy Gregorius-led defense here and here.) Despite a lead-off single, Chapman got 3 great strikeouts to close out the 9th and the game.
Final score: 12-8 Yankees, Yankees sweep series 2-0
London Trivia: Today’s game was much shorter than the marathon of last night’s nutsy show, and yet there was still 9 hours and 6 minutes of total game time. Together, both teams scored 50 runs, 9 of them home runs, and collected 65 total hits. And they will be thankful for tomorrow’s off-day as they collectively went through 30 pitchers in just 2 games.
Next up: The Yankees will need that off-day tomorrow after traveling home from the UK. On Tuesday, they begin a quick 2-game series in Queens at the Mets. Then, they’ll be back in the Tampa area to face the Rays for a 4-game weekend series before the All-Star Break. Following the break, the Yankees will begin their official second half of the 2019 season with a long homestand.
Roster moves: The Yankees played a little with the loophole in the roster for this travel series, optioning Nestor Cortes Jr and recalling Chance Adams, who came to London as part of the “taxi squad” just in case he was needed. And clearly, he was, though I doubt he’ll look back fondly at his outing. Even with the off-day tomorrow, with the depletion of the bullpen, I imagine there will be further moves once the Yankees are back stateside.
Injury update: The Yankees also sent reliever Ben Heller to AAA Scranton to begin his rehab assignment. Heller had surgery on his right elbow earlier this year. And Luke Voit was missing from today’s game roster though he was present and ready off the bench if needed. He said he felt much better after feeling some core tightness during yesterday’s game.
All-Star Roster Update: As you know, the Yankees have two starters on the All-Star Game roster this year. Gary Sanchez will be the starting catcher, and DJ LeMahieu will be the starting 2nd baseman for the AL team. Joining them in Cleveland this year is Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. This will be Chapman’s 6th All-Star Game, LeMahieu’s 3rd, and Sanchez’s 2nd.
Chapman himself noted, “To me, I thought we were going to have six or seven All-Stars from this team. It’s a little surprising.” Yes, it is. I think a lot of us in Yankee Universe were expecting that maybe those who fell short in the final vote last week might get a second chance as part of the reserves, like Voit, Urshela, Torres, and Judge.
While all 3 All-Stars this year will represent the Yankees well, it is hard not to wish the team currently sitting atop the AL in the standings isn’t better represented in this year’s Midsummer Classic. I guess, they will just have to show everyone what they missed in July by an outstanding performance in October. Besides, that’s the stat that really matters in the end.