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Major League Baseball - London calling

The biggest rivalry in Major League Baseball – and arguably in world sports – is between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. With a twist for the ages in late June, the two historic clubs met in the first official games played in Europe, at the London Stadium, home to the 2012 Olympic Games. Ever since Babe Ruth was traded from the Red Sox to New York in 1920, the fortunes of these storied clubs seemed to be intrinsically linked, with a ‘curse’ said to follow Boston for 86-years, until an unbelievable comeback in 2004 reversed fortunes. After winning five World Series titles from 1903 to 1918, the Red Sox was the ‘glamour’ team of MLB, but from the Ruth trade through to the end of the 20th century, Boston was title-less, while the Yankees were champions 26 times. In 2004 the Red Sox were trailing New York in the Championship Series after losing the first three games of a best of seven set, but recovered in exciting fashion to win the next four to qualify for the World Series, then swept the St Louis Cardinals. Further titles in 2007, 2013 and last season has made Boston the team of the 21st century, so far, with the Yankees 2009 victory their sole success since 2000. The history between these clubs has mainly been heartache for the Bostonians, until fortunes were changed 15 years ago. Now that rivalry has reached another pinnacle, in London, with New York winning both contests in a season where the Yankees look the real deal for another World Series appearance. There have been 12 MLB series played overseas, starting with two games in 1996 between San Diego and New York Mets in Mexico. There have been five series and 11 games in total played at Monterrey. In 2000 Japan became the first non-North American country to host official MLB games, when the Chicago Cubs and the NY Mets clashed in Tokyo – the first of five series and 10 MLB games to be played in the Tokyo Dome. With Australia hosting the opening series between Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014, a new horizon away from traditional baseball venues was reached, as the two games were played at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Now in 2019 – after games in Tokyo to start the season and two other series in Mexico, the London series opened up further new ground for MLB, while creating a truly world stage for the sport. As for the games in London, the Yankees scored a record (for outside USA/Canada games) 17 runs in beating Boston’s 13 runs, while the series total of 50 runs, after New York won the second contest 12-8, is also a MLB record for these special match-ups. The London audience was treated to early fireworks, when both teams scored six runs in the first frame of game one, and with a total of 14 pitching changes, the contest fell just three minutes short of the longest nine-inning MLB game in history. Both teams smashed three home runs, and while the pitching may have left a little to be desired, the fielding was errorless, with a couple of ‘gems’ highlighting the sparkling defence. For the record, the Yankees Aaron Hicks belted the first home run in London with his two-run blast in the first inning, while 16 of the starting 18 batters collected at least one hit each. Two unusual personal ‘records’ are noteworthy from New York players. Edwin Encarnacion, who started the season with Seattle and played in Tokyo earlier this year, was traded to the Yankees shortly before the London series, and holds the unique distinction of playing MLB on three continents in the same season. And dazzling shortstop Didi Gregorius has the unique record of playing in the first official Major League games in Australia and Europe, after previously taking the field for Arizona Diamondbacks in Sydney five years ago. For all intents and purposes, it looked like a split series in game two until the Yankees exploded for a nine-run seventh inning to steal victory from the jaws of defeat. After retiring the Yankees for no score in the first dig, the Red Sox exploded for four runs in the bottom of the opening frame, behind big home runs to Xander Bogaerts, JD Martinez and Christian Vazquez. The Yankees did score a pair of runs off Boston starter Eduardo Rodriguez in the second inning, but that was all until the seventh dig, where the Red Sox used three pitchers in an attempt to stem the tide. Going into the series New York held a record of hitting at least one home run in 29 consecutive games, which was extended to 30 in the first contest. But leading 11-4 in the second game, and with no Yankee managing to extend the record further, there was finally some joy in the eighth, when Gregorius hit a dinger – a record that stands at 31, with no further addition on the team’s return to the USA. In that second game, trailing 12-4, Boston did make a belated charge with four runs in the bottom of the eighth, but could not handle the speed and control of New York’s premier reliever Aroldis Chapman in the final inning. As for the crowd – a record 59,000 plus on each day of an ‘outside’ series – it seemed well educated as far as baseball was concerned, with many Americans and many more savvy Europeans in attendance (with a sprinkling of Aussie fans). Some of the unusual aspects of the series included the choice of MLB logos on shirts and caps, with everyone of the 30 Major League Baseball clubs represented. And some of the souvenirs available were surprising, with beer cups and other paraphernalia featuring both Red Sox and Yankees logos. How can a red-hot Bostonian go anywhere near a NY insignia, and visa-versa? Overall it was a great experience – the singing of the American and English National Anthems, as well as the seventh-inning stretch song, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, were great highlights. And a taste of home for USA fans, as the late game home-town songs of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline (Fenway Park) and the Village People’s YMCA (Yankee Stadium) blared over the PA systems. Food and beverage outlets catered for Bostonians, New Yorkers and Londoners, with a few other varieties factored in – the hot dogs weren’t a foot long, they were more like metre long monstrosities, and priced to match their enormous size. The success of this inaugural venture into Europe will be extended with games expected to be played between Chicago Cubs and St Louis Cardinals in London next June. Hopefully one day MLB will again come down under, and perhaps even in Adelaide! * * * * * RESULTS GAME ONE (June 29. 2019, London Stadium). Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E NYY 6 0 2 6 3 0 0 0 0 17 19 0 BOS 6 0 0 0 0 1 6 0 0 13 18 0 Hits: Yankees – LeMahieu 4, Voit 4, Judge 2 (hr), Gregorius 2, A. Hicks 2 (hr), Torres 2, Urshela, Encarnación, Gardner (hr); Red Sox – Bradley Jr. 4 (hr), JD Martinez 3, Devers 2, Leon 2, Chavis 2 (2 hr), Betts, Hernandez, Bogaerts, Vázquez, Holt. WP: Green; LP: Wright.

GAME TWO (June 30, 2019, London Stadium) Teams 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E NYY 0 2 0 0 0 0 9 1 0 12 13 2 BOS 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 4 0 8 15 2 Hits: Yankees – LeMahieu 3, A. Hicks 2, Gregorius 2 (hr), Gardner 2, G. Sánchez, Judge, Torres, Urshela; Red Sox – JD Martinez 3 (hr), M. Hernandez 2, Vázquez 2 (hr), Bradley Jr. 2, Travis 2, Betts, Devers, Bogaerts (hr), E. Núñez. WP: Ottavino; LP: Walden.