Justin Steele impressed by support for Chicago Cubs at London Stadium

Steele delighted in how strongly the fans – or in some cases the baseball-curious wearing blue – got behind his team.

Rachel Steinberg
Saturday 24 June 2023 23:02 BST
Justin Steele hailed the London Stadium crowd (Zac Goodwin/PA)
Justin Steele hailed the London Stadium crowd (Zac Goodwin/PA) (PA Wire)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Chicago Cubs pitcher Justin Steele heaped praise on the 54,662 supporters who packed London Stadium to see his side cruise to a 9-1 victory over bitter division rivals the St Louis Cardinals.

The Cubs’ bats handed starter Steele, who struck out eight and gave up one run across six innings, a comfortable lead and were up 7-0 after four innings on a humid evening that also saw outfielder Ian Happ hit two home runs.

Saturday’s attendance exceeded the capacity of most Major League Baseball stadia, and Steele delighted in how strongly the fans – or in some cases the baseball-curious wearing blue – got behind his team.

He said: “It’s something I’ll never forget. Truly special. It felt like everybody was on the mound there with me, really exciting energy. It was really cool to cap it off like that, punch out the side, it was really cool, and I just can’t say enough about the atmosphere.”

Steele’s comments will be music to the ears of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who on Friday said positive player experiences in series like these will be central to whether or not the league returns to places like London following their final scheduled contest on these shores in 2026.

That is the same year the MLB’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires, with international series once again set to be one of the topics on the table with the players’ association.

The pace of this London Series opener was likely a relief to fans and organisers alike after the first-ever MLB game in London, 2019’s 17-13 slugfest between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, lasted a near record-breaking four hours and 42 minutes.

Outfield fences were pushed further back for this contest, which ended after a comparatively brief two hours and 40 minutes, capped off for the Cubs by shortstop Dansby Swanson’s two-run homer in the top of the ninth.

Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt made history in London by becoming the first player in MLB history to play in five different countries, and also ended the evening the lone Card to have picked up a run batted in (RBI) in England.

Cubs manager David Ross admitted there was uncertainty about how the effects of crossing the pond would affect his team, and was delighted by their efforts on unfamiliar turf.

He said: “I think some of the nerves are gone from the group, especially from my seat where you’re not sure how guys are going to feel with all the travel and everything.

“They go out there and the bats did what they did, I thought it was a really nice performance top to bottom from our line-up, they did a phenomenal job. Happer getting us started off with a homer just kind of lets everybody relax a little bit and still be great.”

Ross’ side remain in third place in the division, so they will be eagerly eyeing up a chance to sweep the division’s bottom-dwelling Cardinals when the series concludes on Sunday.

He is also looking forward to the unique experience of hearing ‘go Cubs go’ chanted in England for a second successive day.

“That sounded good,” he enthusiastically agreed. “That’s the first thing that stood out to me. It was nice and loud. I hope someday I’ll get to watch that on video somewhere tonight or tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll hear it again tomorrow.”

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