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Yankees leave London with «eye-opening» wins over Red Sox

LONDON — After Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman struck out the Boston Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez with a 101-mile-per-hour fastball, his teammates converged in the infield for their usual victory handshake line. Streamers the colors of the flags of the United States and United Kingdom fluttered throughout the stadium.

Although the Red Sox were considered the home team, the Yankees’ victory song, “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra, reverberated through London Stadium — a long way from the Yankees’ home in the Bronx.

“They played it nice and loud, too,” said Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge with a smile.

Despite some quirks, the two-game Yankees-Red Sox series in London made its mark. It was Major League Baseball’s first foray into a European market dominated by soccer. Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks, who on Saturday hit the first major league home run in Europe, donated his game-worn cleats to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The games drew announced crowds of 59,659 and 59,059 people, respectively. Saturday’s attendance was the most for a regular season game since 2003, according to Baseball Reference.


“The most fans I’ve ever played in front of,” Yankees first baseman Luke Voit said. “That was awesome.”



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But for all the pomp and circumstance — including a visit from a royal couple— the games still mattered. And in the two contests, the Yankees (54-28) once again showed they were the best team in the American League.


Yankees 17-Boston 13 (June 29, London) 

“It was eye opening the last two days, from top to bottom,” said Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, whose team’s record fell to 44-40. “Right now, they’re a lot better than us.”

The Yankees capped a wild two-game sweep with a 12-8 win on Sunday. Trailing 4-2 much of the game, the Yankees’ potent offense took the lead with nine runs in the seventh inning against a shaky Red Sox bullpen that has converted only 17 of 34 save chances this season.


                Yankees 12 – Boston 8 (June 30, London)


But in a stadium that felt small — perhaps because of a combination of the field dimensions, the aerodynamics, the new artificial turf surface and the baseball itself — no lead was safe. Chapman, who was named an All-Star for the sixth time Sunday, saved both.

In all, the series featured over nine hours of baseball, 50 runs and 65 hits — modern baseball pushed to its outer limits.

“I don’t know what it was, but just a couple crazy games,” said Yankees’ All-Star infielder D.J. LeMahieu, whose three hits on Sunday raised his batting average to .345. “But our pitchers, honestly, did a really good job for the circumstances. I’m just glad we scored a bunch of runs.”

The crowd at London Stadium was a mix of American fans and Europeans checking out a foreign sport.
Credit Dan Istitene/Getty Images 

The Yankees improved to 8-0 when using an opener this season, though that was owed almost entirely to the team’s offense.

When Yankees opener Stephen Tarpley allowed three Red Sox home runs in the first inning, a slugfest felt inevitable. The Yankees managed only two runs against Red Sox starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez, then batted around against their bullpen in the seventh. Third baseman Gio Urshela led the Yankees with three runs batted in.

“We got one day off, for sure, and we enjoyed it,” Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres said of the London trip. “But after that, we focused on playing.”

The trip was several years in the making. M.L.B. has prioritized international growth and had eyed the European market. Randy Levine, the Yankees president who sits on the M.L.B. international committee, said he and the Red Sox representatives on the committee pushed for their teams to play in London for nearly seven years.

With past international games, M.L.B. often sent smaller revenue teams because it was easier to reimburse them for the lost gate receipts from giving up home games. But the idea to send the biggest rivals in baseball and two of the most recognizable brands in sports, the Yankees and Red Sox, to make an initial splash in Europe came into focus within the past three years after it received the blessings of the committee, Commissioner Rob Manfred and the rest of the clubs. (The Red Sox gave up two home games in Fenway Park against the Yankees for the London Series.)

“You’ve got to lead with your best,” Levine said.

Next year, the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals, two other fierce, historic rivals, will play at London Stadium. Manfred said on Saturday that he hoped the tradition would continue beyond 2020, and potentially in other European cities. (One issue is finding a suitable stadium since baseball requires a great deal of space.)

“I’d love to come back,” Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said. “I love it here.”

The players had a few suggestions for what should change in the future, including addressing the white seats that made a difficult backdrop for the white baseball. The setting sun also made fly balls challenging to read. The over all conditions, though, led to long games and lots of offense.

“Most fans want to see runs scored in games so I think they should be happy,” Voit said.

Although M.L.B. officials said 70 percent of the tickets were bought within the U.K. and 20 percent in the U.S., fans said the stands felt like a 50-50 split with British and American fans. Some fans said the games were not marketed much around London.

“Where we sat, there were loads of Americans in front of us and behind us,” said Mike Dunn, 33, who hailed from Somerset, England and was new to baseball. “A lot of people here know about the game, so you can turn to people and ask them the rules and stuff.”

Dunn attended Saturday’s game with friends for a bachelor’s party but said he would consider watching more M.L.B. games televised from North America in the future despite the time difference. Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius, who was born in Amsterdam and raised in Curaçao, said soccer-crazy European fans simply need to be exposed to baseball for it to catch on.

“We need to grow the game and get fans everywhere,” Levine said. “Don’t worry about developing players. That’s a long-term thing. But develop fans.”

Many players and team officials considered their four days in London a special break in the long season. Normalcy will resume for the Yankees on Tuesday against the Mets after an eight-hour flight back to New York on Sunday night.

“It’s been a good trip but I think we’re all excited to get back,” LeMahieu said.

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