You can argue with me until you’re blue in the face — my face isn’t getting blue with this one — but the greatest rivalry in sports is the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
You can have the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, you can take the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, you can save the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, and please, I don’t want to hear about the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels in basketball.
When the Bronx Bombers and Crimson Hose lace up the cleats, it’s the most special of them all.
This weekend, emerging from the shadows of rugby, cricket, tennis and football (soccer), the first Major League Baseball regular-season games will be played in Europe. Following in the footsteps of Mexico, Japan, Australia and Puerto Rico, it’ll be London serving as backdrop for New York and Boston’s seventh and eighth meetings of the season.
“We had great interest among the clubs in being one of the first two teams to come to London and play a regular season game,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told UK’s batflipsandnerds.com during a panel discussion in May. “One of the important factors was that John (Henry) and Hal (Steinbrenner), on behalf of the Red Sox and the Yankees (respectively), had been talking about this possibility for a very long time. That fact coupled with the nature of the rivalry and our desire to make the most out of the London series, made these two clubs the perfect choice for this first outing.”
So for one weekend, the more than 400 kids who wear MLB gear and play baseball on 14 pop-up ball fields at Wormwood Scrubs — an open space located in the northeastern corner of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in west London — will have to take a backseat to the big boys.
“This is something that they’ve clearly heard about in England. Everyone over there has heard of the Red Sox and Yankees,” said longtime New York columnist Wallace Matthews, who covered the Yankees for more than 20 years. “Whenever you put these two teams on the field, there’s chemistry. Just knowing the history of these two teams, who knows what comes out of this.”
Matthews noted there aren’t a lot of villains left on either team, now that former Red Sox Joe Kelly and former Yankee Tyler Austin have taken their heated rivalry to the National League West. Last April in Boston, Kelly beaned Austin, who charged the mound and ignited a bench-clearing brawl. Kelly is now with the Dodgers, while Austin is with the Giants, leaving some intrigue for that rivalry.
Don’t get it twisted, though. A lack of villains doesn’t make the Boston-New York meeting a friendly one.
After the defending World Series champion Red Sox finish up at home against the Chicago White Sox, and the Yankees close out their series with the Toronto Blue Jays, two of the biggest names in the history of the baseball will hop the pond with hopes of winning over the hearts and minds of Brits while invading historic London Stadium.
From a betting standpoint, Westgate SuperBook Manager Randy Blum said there won’t be too much overthinking when making the lines for the games, considering both teams will endure the same travel — it is 6 1/2 hours of flying time for both — and will have had two days off. Instead, he’s been paying attention to the dimensions of London Stadium.
The iconic venue that played host to the London 2012 Olympic Games and is home to West Ham United has undergone an amazing three-week transformation to provide a state-of-the-art Major League Baseball stadium, with more than 141,900 square feet of artificial turf imported from France, and more than 1,300 feet of fencing with 60-foot tall foul poles installed.
“We’ll look at dimensions, altitude,” said Blum, who oversees the baseball odds. “There looks to be a lot of foul territory, which could benefit the pitchers.”
Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to start against the Red Sox on Saturday but have yet to determine a Sunday starter. Left-hander J.A. Happ would be on six days rest if he started, after being roughed up by the Houston Astros on Sunday. The Yankees could also bring back Monday’s starter, CC Sabathia, on five days’ rest. As of Tuesday, the Red Sox had yet to pencil in their starters.
Blum expects decent handle on both games, considering the rivalry gets plenty of action whether the games are played in Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. The added mystique of playing in London simply adds to the hype.
“These are two popular teams anyway, they travel well,” said Blum, who will make the lines available as usual, loaded overnight with the rest of the slate. “Those are two teams the general public likes to bet on. It should be balanced action with two good teams.”
Not just two good teams, two teams that make up the greatest rivalry in sports.
Mets at Phillies: I’ll roll with the road team, as the National League East rivals close out their four-game series at Citizens Bank Park with a matinee game.
Mets starter Zack Wheeler finally showed some improvement in his last time out, a seven-inning win over the Chicago Cubs last Saturday, when he allowed just one run while fanning five to earn his sixth victory of the season. Wheeler is 1-1 against the Phils this season with a 1.92 ERA in the two outings — both quality starts in April.
The Phillies hand the ball to Aaron Nola, who has struggled to find consistency in June and comes into this one with a 5.55 ERA in four starts this month. We should get a decent price here. METS
Pirates at Astros: We’re likely staring down the barrel of a big price, so I’m going to lay the run line with the Astros.
The Pirates are handing the ball to Joe Musgrove, who has had an up-and-down season en route to a 5-7 mark and 4.57 ERA in 16 appearances (15 starts). As of Tuesday, the Astros had the third-highest batting average (.267) and second-best slugging percentage (.473) in baseball. That will pose a problem for Musgrove, who will not only be dealing with that offense, but also must deal with the humidity Houston presents during an afternoon game assuming the roof at Minute Maid Park stays open.
Astros starter Brad Peacock will be looking to avenge his last start, as the right-hander took the loss against the Yankees despite allowing two runs over six innings with 11 strikeouts. He has just one win in his past six starts, so he’ll be hungry for this win. ASTROS RUN LINE
Cubs at Reds: I’ll head to Great American Ball Park for my third play of the week, as I like the Cubbies to steal this series lid-lifter.
The Reds turn to Sonny Gray, who is just 3-5 with a 4.03 ERA this season. The right-hander gave up two home runs in five innings against these same Cubs back on May 15, when he took a no-decision from the game. Gray has struggled this month, going 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA, having allowed 12 runs — all earned — and four home runs in four starts, spanning 20 innings.
The Cubs haven’t necessarily been the offensive juggernaut we saw last year, but they were clinging to a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday and have been getting it done with a balance at the plate and on the mound. CUBS
Last week: 1-2
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