Over 118,000 people attended Yankees-Red Sox in London this weekend as a surreal and exciting introduction to European baseball. With that in the books, here are some stray observations from the grounds in London.
London Stadium was not close to a Red Sox home game: That was obvious going in, but even more obvious when the games were actually going down. There was a Red Sox contingent in the stadium, but the crowds seemed more Yankees-centric than otherwise. However, the neutral London fans made for the peculiar ambiance of an exhibition, which Adam Ottavino intimated.
The Saturday crowd for Game 1 was rowdier, which you expect with the later start. It was a nice change of pace to see vendors selling mixed drinks in the seats — if you’re into that sort of thing — but there was no seventh inning cutoff. Still, I didn’t witness any violence in the seats, no hooliganery or whatever stereotypes you expect.
The short walls weren’t what created offense: Contrary to expectations, London Stadium didn’t play that small. Sure, there were a couple wall scrapers, but plenty of no-doubters, too, and no more cheapies than the average Yankees or Red Sox home game.
Instead, the real offense-inducing factor was the turf. It played fast! They were hosing it down before the game and it didn’t help enough. It played faster than either Tropicana Field or Rogers Centre turf. That made hard hit grounders nearly a sure thing to get through and balls to the outfield rough.
Therefore, it’s not hard to see why Andrew Benintendi didn’t play the last 12 innings of the series or why the Yankees wanted Mike Tauchman in there for Aaron Judge. Brett Gardner had one routine single in front of him where he got on a knee to keep it from getting behind him.
Breaking balls didn’t have the normal bite on them Saturday. There was speculation that it had something to do with the atmosphere, but it may have just been a fluke with the heat. It was hot and humid, over 90 degrees, so manipulating the ball on the sweltering turf had to have been difficult.
The Freeze, Mascot Race and more: I am generally indifferent to between-inning entertainment, yet London had the right feel. I’m a sucker for watching The Freeze turn fans into fools, though seeing him lose on the first night was disappointing.
The mascot race was exactly as silly as it was supposed to be. Wouldn’t have minded the Loch Ness Monster winning, but you take what you can get. I’m gonna put out a hot take: The Yankees should have a mascot or mascot race. I’d stick in my seats at attention to watch that, even if it doesn’t fit the organization at all.
Anyway, having 60,000 people engaged in a baseball game was great. Can the Cardinals and Cubs keep it up next year? And whatever teams go over third? After London has had a couple turns, I’d like to see games in Paris or Amsterdam, though the latter has the better baseball culture.
Look, a Bunt!: The Daily Telegraph posted what was essentially a “Dummies Guide to Baseball” on Saturday and it was hilarious for the baseball fluent among us.
The Daily Telegraph really overestimated baseball fan’s enjoyment of bunts. pic.twitter.com/TXvsUjIk4b— Blog Game Marcus Smart (@StevenTydings) July 2, 2019
They did accurately describe the downtime in America’s Pastime.
They did have a pretty accurate forecast of London Series Game 1. pic.twitter.com/zwuP4Uq5JN— Blog Game Marcus Smart (@StevenTydings) July 2, 2019
“One spectator’s boredom is another’s ecstatic rumination” may be the best summation of baseball I’ve seen.
Didi and Hicks looking like themselves: I was getting wildly worried about Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks and then they went all supernova in the last week.
Before last week, Didi was hitting a meager .220/.235/.300 (37 wRC+) and now has a .280/.319/.449 (102 wRC+) mark after posting four straight multi-hit games and hitting a pair of homers. He just loks himself. His strikeouts are up — same for everone — but he looks more like himself at the plate … and oh my goodness can he still field and throw! He’s a two-way difference maker.
Meanwhile, Hicks didn’t quite boost his line as dramatically as Didi, but he came through with some clutch hits — first home run in London, double in Game 2 — and had two hits in both games, his first time doing that in back-to-back games this year.
The Yankees have their largest AL East lead since 2012 … and with that comes a fair amount of caution. This team has oodles of talent on offense and in the bullpen, enough to carry a shaky rotation. Still, that 2012 precedent is one to remember.
The Bombers that year held a 10-game lead in the AL East on July 18 heading into a western swing and were swept in four games by the A’s, each by one run. That led to a brief swoon and allowed Baltimore to eventually tie up the race in September.
Brian Cashman may add a starter or two in the next month, but even still, the team can’t take the foot off the gas. Bulldoze the Red Sox, steamroll the Rays and turn the division into a laugher.
Are the Red Sox in real trouble? I’m having a tough time getting a read on this. On one hand, their offense is a little banged up and their bullpen could use 3-4 more arms. However, they’re still right in the thick of the wild-card chase with the teams around them — Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Texas — all on shaky ground.
Even if the A’s put together another second-half surge like last year, I still see Boston making it to the Wild Card Game. The division? That’s getting out of their grasp, but I still expect October baseball for the Sox.