Late on Saturday afternoon in London, an inebriated fellow stumbled around a Tube car en route to Stratford, in the city’s wild east. His attempts to apologize by extending his hand to those on whom he fell only left him vulnerable to further tumbles. He ultimately reached his destination a few stops short of Stratford, to where the rest of us were on our way — to London Stadium, for a Major League Baseball contest between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
At the stadium, fans were treated to something akin to the drunk on the Tube: a bumbling affair with amateur-quality pitching on a field both too big and too small to offer a minority of curious locals and a mass of New Yorkers and Bostonians a typical baseball game.
The first 40 minutes went about as well as Yankees fans could have hoped, as the team built a quick six-run lead which chased Boston’s starting pitcher with only a single out recorded. The lead shriveled away quickly, however, as Boston returned the favor, putting up six runs in the bottom half of the opening inning. One frame into the game, and it was on pace to be a nine-hour marathon at sprint speed.
A quiet second inning preceded a scoring fest for the Yankees, who amassed 17 runs and an 11-run lead over the course of the middle innings. The Red Sox fired back in the latter part of the game, bringing their deficit down to four runs before finally succumbing in the final inning.
What Londoners witnessed over an almost five-hour period was not a run-of-the-mill regular season MLB game. Instead, they were treated to perhaps the worst pitching in baseball this season.
Part of the problem was the field. Center field was only 385 feet from home plate; about 15 to 30 feet closer than in most MLB outfields. Foul territory, meanwhile, was enormous, making any ball hit down the first- and third-base lines especially dangerous for the defense.
Still, whether the primary culprit was the field, long innings resulting in stiff arms, jetlag, or a Red Sox bullpen simply lacking talent, the bottom line is fans were almost totally deprived of a crucial portion of the game: pitching. Every lead seemed tenuous, and just about every pitcher seemed to forget his craft.
The atypical nature of the game aside, the atmosphere of the stadium reflected the intensity of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. The crowd, which seemed mostly made up of Americans, was engaged throughout the night, even as the ambassadors of the Red Sox Nation thinned out as the Yankees pulled ahead in the middle part of the game.
After the game, a group of what appeared to be Tottenham supporters engaged in a couple of their cheers. Baseball fans tend to have simpler cheers than their counterparts attending soccer matches. This game mostly consisted of competing chants of ‘Let’s go Yankees’ and ‘Let’s go Red Sox’, with the occasional ‘Yankees suck’ thrown in for good measure.
On the other hand, there were moments of unity and sportsmanship. Both teams’ fans, for example, took part in booing third base umpire Angel Hernandez before the game. Behind me, a young Yankees fan handed a nearby Red Sox fan a Heineken purchased by the child’s father.
The spirit of the rivalry was alive on the field as well as in the crowd. While the box score may have been unusual, the bruising, nothing’s-ever-easy battle between two of baseball’s top franchises reflected the passion present in almost all of their games against one another.
Whether baseball finds a home in the United Kingdom remains to be seen. But if MLB wanted to put on a show as much as a game, it succeeded.