Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY and Pete Caldera of NorthJersey.com discuss the historic Yankees-Red Sox series at London Stadium.
Pete Caldera, Staff Writer, @pcaldera
LONDON — Major League Baseball, spending the week desperately trying to promote their game in Europe, certainly came up with a doozy of a plan Saturday by turning a traditional baseball game into a zany free-for-all where everything was distorted beyond imagination.
The New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have been playing against one another since 1903, and never, ever, have they played a game like this.
By the time it ended, the Yankees survived, 17-13, in the second highest-scoring game between the two teams, and nearly the longest game they have ever played, lasting four hours, 42 minutes.
The Red Sox and Yankees showed this continent that openers don’t necessarily have to be relievers, letting every British kid dream that he’s talented enough to pitch in the big leagues after watching this travesty, and that they, too, can feel commissioner Rob Manfred’s pain on the pace of play.
It was Yankee-Red Sox baseball, Coors Field style.
It was a game that opened with the Yankees and Red Sox scoring six runs apiece in the first inning. It was the first time these two teams have ever scored six runs in the first inning against one another, and the first time since June 23, 1989, that two teams scored at least six runs in the first inning.
It was so insane that before the night was over, they combined for four separate six-run innings.
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Red Sox starter Rick Porcello set the stage by lasting a career-worst one-third of an inning. Yankee starter Masahiro Tanaka survived only an out longer. The first inning lasted 58 minutes, with four different pitchers throwing a total of 92 pitches.
There were only three scoreless innings the entire game – including the eighth and ninth.
It was so gruesome for pitchers that the two teams combined to cough up 23 runs and 27 hits after just 4 ½ innings, including seven doubles and four home runs.
It was baseball, London style.
Still, if the crowd was insulted by the atrocious pitching, the juiced baseballs, or the video game offense, they sure didn’t show it.
Maybe it was that they have already been Americanized, doing the wave in the fourth inning with the Yankees leading 14-6, singing “YMCA’’, “Sweet Caroline’’ and even knowing just how to act during “KissCam.’’
The stadium was sold out, but of the 59,659 in attendance, including Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan, estimates were that about 40,000 were Americans. They not only didn’t pretend to have British accents, they donned every American sporting clothing from Bryce Harper and Alex Bregman jerseys to a Babe Ruth polo, even a Tom Brady jersey.
The fans, whether they paid 35 pounds on StubHub for obstructed seats at the last minute, or 900 pounds for premier seats, appeared to enjoy themselves.
While players were losing balls in the lights, others ran aimlessly in the vast foul-ball territory, as balls were flying out as if they got mixed up with the ones used at Home Run Derby.
The crowd, cheering virtually for just about everything that happened in the game, saw the ball screaming into the night all game long, speeding past infielders, and outfielders trying to catch their breath trying to keep balls from skipping to the fence.
It was one the greatest offensive shows these two teams have ever produced, and maybe it was just what MLB wanted when they decided to make this foray into Europe, keeping these fans entertained from the first hot dog to the last drop of their pints.
“This is inspiring us to take a trip to New York now to watch baseball there,’’ said London native Suze Newton, who took in her first baseball game. “We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if it would be like cricket or not.
“I just wanted to see what the atmosphere would be like, so now that we see it, it might be rather fun to see it in New York.’’
The crowd appeared to be almost evenly mixed with Yankee and Red Sox fans, but it was decidedly American, with many fans either Americans living in Europe, or Americans taking their summer vacation.
“My brother-in-law has been bugging me to come here for five years,’’ said Carl Shain, 61, a retired military veteran living in Amelia Island, Fla. “He kept saying that England is a wonderful country, you’ve got to come. Then, in January, he says, the Yankees are coming.
“I told him, ‘We’ll be there in June, how’s that?’
“So, I come with the wife, and we did all of the touring around the city for her. Now, it’s my day at the ballpark.’’
And for Americans that live in London, well, it sure was a welcome sight, even getting a special treat at the concession stands.
“Oh, my god, I can’t believe it, you know how long I’ve waited for this,’’ said Terry Palmgust, munching on a hot dog.
Palmgust, who grew up in Fargo, Minn., and has spent the past 12 years in London as a school teacher, said she hadn’t had a hot dog in years. It was worth the wait.
Her husband Patrick Frank plays in competitive softball leagues in London, and says there is a growing appetite for the sport. His team has just two Americans on it, he said, and the best way to wake up in the morning is to open his computer and see the scores of the MLB games he missed.
He wore his Cubs jersey to Saturday’s game and plans to be back next year when the Cubs and Cardinals play in London.
“When I see someone wearing a Cubs cap in the Tube [subway],’’ he said, “it’s like a moment of recognition. You see more Yankee caps than anything, but I think they just wear the cap because it’s so popular.’’
Yes, just like Heineken vendor Ko Ahman, who was hawking the beer for 6.50 pounds, and called himself a big Yankees’ fan.
Well, one little confession.
He couldn’t tell you a single player who played on the team, and never heard of Aaron Judge.
“I don’t know anything about them, or anyone,” he said, “but I am a fan.’’
It was the first time most of British fans had ever seen beer vendors. Drinking is prohibited in the stands at most soccer games.
“You have to stop the hooligans, so they can’t sell the beer,’’ Palmgust said. “But here, it’s such a family-feel here. There’s nothing to cause trouble. It’s very family friendly.’’
Really, the only ones who needed to do some heavy drinking this night were the pitchers, with 16 appearing in the game.
The crowd started to get bored midway through the game with the Yankees leading 17-6 in the fifth inning, with some leaving after seeing Freddie Mercury a mascot race over Winston Churchill, Freddie Mercury, Henry VIII and the Loch Ness Monster.
Yet, just when it seemed long over, the Red Sox put up the last six-spot of the night in the seventh inning, and all bets were off until final out.
The sequel will be at 10 a.m. Sunday, and if possible, we could see even more offense considering both teams have fatigued pitching staffs, and position players oozing with confidence as if they’re Hank Aaron.
“I didn’t see anyone get mad at all that their team was losing, or even who they were rooting for,’’ said beer salesman Nish Matanda. “We know Americans like to have their fun over here. And it sure seemed like they were having their fun.
“So it’s like this when they play in the United States, no?’’
Well, not exactly.