The first ever Major League Baseball regular season games in Europe were an overwhelming success. The crowds were engaged, creating an atmosphere of friendly rivalry with a buzz of excitement for this new project. The weather was as good as it gets in the UK.
The baseball itself was bizarre.
Saturday’s game saw 30 runs scored and was the second-longest nine-inning game in Major League Baseball history. It was the first time ever in a Yankees-Red Sox game that both starters were pulled in the first inning – Masahiro Tanaka and Rick Porcello combined for three outs, leaving the score at 6-6 after an epic first inning.
Sunday saw the Red Sox score fourth in the first inning. There were murmurings of ‘here we go again’ around the crowd as people pondered if the London Stadium was Coors Field on steroids.
It turned out it was not. Eduardo Rodriguez gave a solid outing despite giving up two runs in the second. No more runs were scored until Boston’s bullpen imploded (yet again) in the top of the seventh. The Yankees got nine runs in the inning to turn the game on its head.
The Red Sox battled back, scoring four in the second half of the eighth and threatening to rally all the way back. They got to within four at 12-8 but couldn’t complete a dramatic turnaround.
The Yankees outlook for the World Series was already improving before the weekend and defeating last season’s champion over the two games in London only made their case stronger, as they’ve made it an 11-game lead over their fierce rivals.
The starting pitching is a glaring concern, but we can expect them to be active before the 31st July trade deadline. Giancarlo Stanton’s absence was hardly felt, nor was Luke Voit’s, as the bulky first baseman missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury he picked up pushing for a double in game one.
While the baseball was extraordinary, and the London Stadium was adapted beautifully, it remains to be seen how many new European baseball fans this weekend created. London Yards on Brick Lane was a good idea, but translating a festival of great food, games and live music into genuine MLB support is another challenge.
The games themselves were lengthy, and while all that offence is fun, it didn’t do much to win over people that think baseball takes too long.
For already established fans, though, this was a perfect weekend. MLB did not hold back on the ballpark experience. Enormous queues for Play Ball Park and some of the outdoor food stands were frustrating, but the important thing was that MLB went all-in on this weekend.
Registration is already open for the Cubs and Cardinals series in June 2020. The ticket pricing strategy could be make-or-break for the league on this side of the ocean. It will be fascinating to see if the 2019 series has any lasting impact on baseball in the UK beyond a few Instagram posts and some very happy long-term fans.