Yankees vs Red Sox: MLB discovers baseball utopia in London as Aaron Judge stars in batting frenzy

New York Yankees 17-13 Boston Red Sox: The Bronx Bombers beat their bitter rivals and World Series champions to tighten their grip atop of the American League East 

Jack Rathborn
London Stadium
Sunday 30 June 2019 08:34 BST
London Stadium transformed into MLB ballpark

The wry smile that spread across Aaron Judge’s face as the ball disappeared into the stands in the fourth innings for his home run confirmed the London Stadium’s transformation into a baseball utopia.

The handsome, muscle-bound Yankee personified a hitting feast in London’s belated, yet thrilling introduction to MLB.

Having gifted their rivals as much as a 12-year head start in the race to enchant a new audience, the NFL and NBA may finally be a little anxious after baseball’s gargantuan arrival in the capital certainly increased competition moving forward. West Ham’s home was almost indistinguishable and so was the baseball briefly.

In one of sport’s most illustrious rivalries, the Yankees and the Red Sox, in Europe’s first regular season game, immediately gifted an impressive, sold-out crowd to a first: Both starting pitchers, Boston’s Rick Porcello and New York’s Masihiro Tanaka, coughed up six runs apiece and in doing so suffered the indignation of failing to escape the first innings. This was a hitter’s paradise, yet the batters had grasped their advantage with a savage ruthlessness to the delight of the 60,000 in attendance.

A surprisingly engaged crowd, stuffed with hardcore fans, with many making the pilgrimage over the Atlantic, appeared to need little persuasion to fall for America's Game. A cacophony of noise greeted every hit, catch and doomed effort to glove the ball as the teams pushed the boundaries of their new playground.

And pushing the boundaries is just what MLB have done this weekend, perhaps providing the perfect example of modern sport and its insatiable appetite to wrestle with rivals to prove they have the superior product .

Having resisted the move for so long, this alluring, if flawed, version of the sport on show Saturday did not unfold through luck alone. The hastily assembled ball park possessed hitter-friendly conditions due to the limited dimensions—the smallest field in the league—and plentiful foul territory to multiply the number of pitches faced. That and a hitting juggernaut in the form of the Yankees combined for a slugfest: 37 hits, 30 runs, six home runs.

Aaron Judge smashes the ball out of the park
Aaron Judge smashes the ball out of the park (USA TODAY Sports)

Judge’s brutish force while wielding his wooden weapon was complimented by the magnetic force of the freshly-selected All-Star starter DJ LeMahieu. Even Tanaka’s first inning capitulation, to hand the Red Sox a brief reprieve, could not deny the Yankees here, as their renaissance atop of the division continues. LeMahieu’s clutch hitting sent shivers down each Red Sox pitcher mercifully sent to the mound to stem the bleeding. His prowess is perhaps best quantified with baseball nerdiness as he saw his hitting average move to .486 (34-70) (almost half his plate appearances) with runners in scoring positions (RISP): a precious currency in October once the league has whittled down the teams to 10 for the enthralling post-season.

This game, or “business” as both sides unintentionally, yet appropriately, defined this two-game series all week, was not merely about the action around the diamond. At least not for MLB. Fans were presented with a slight tweak on the NFL and NBA variety they have been accustomed to in recent years. They gorged themselves on the plentiful food options, including three feet of nachos. While the sweltering conditions in the capital only encouraged a constant stream of fans to and from their seats for drinks poured in commemorative pint glasses. Harry and Megan made an appearance and there was the baffling mascot race between innings saw Freddie Mercury see off Winston Churchill, Henry VIII and the Loch Ness Monster. Really.

The Yankees and Red Sox put on a show at the London Stadium
The Yankees and Red Sox put on a show at the London Stadium (AFP/Getty)

Two more stellar franchises follow up this successful opener, with the St Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs in town in 2020. Perhaps through little choice, but a quality line-up is essential: the NFL’s struggling Oakland Raiders scored less points in last year’s London appearance than both teams on Saturday.

Those in attendance endured the baking conditions of this marathon shoot-out, even belting out ”Take me out to the ball game”, confirming baseball’s ascension to sports fanatics in London and beyond.

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