Ian Happ hit two home runs as the Chicago Cubs cruised to a 9-1 win over rivals the St Louis Cardinals on Major League Baseball’s return to the London Stadium.
Happ twice tested out the dimensions of West Ham’s home ground, where a full-scale conversion for two games this weekend saw blowing bubbles and beer replaced by hot dogs and peanuts for the first time since 2019, and Dansby Swanson added a late two-run shot to underline the Cubs’ dominance.
The manner in which the Cubs powered their way to an early lead, up 7-0 after four innings, took the jeopardy out of the game but did not dampen the enthusiasm of 54,662 paying punters keen to see American’s pastime back on British shores.
Four years on from two sold-out contests between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, and three years behind schedule following the pandemic, the Cubs and Cardinals played out their fierce National League Central rivalry in east London.
But, given the Cardinals’ deficiencies this season, it quickly turned into one-way traffic.
Much has changed in baseball since 2019 with the introduction of the pitch clock designed to speed up play, and both teams got down to business much more efficiently than New York and Boston four years ago.
Back then, the opening inning of what turned into an epic 17-13 scoring fest, won by the Yankees, took two minutes short of an hour.
But this entire contest would be over in less than three as the Cubs continued the hot run of form which has made them relevant again in a poor division, this their ninth win in 10 as they improved to 37-38, the Cardinals slumping at 31-45 as the 162-game regular season approaches the midway point.
The scoring started at the top of the second inning as the Cubs wasted little time in getting to the Cardinals’ veteran starting pitcher Adam Wainwright.
Cubs outfielder Happ hit a solo home run straight over the centrefield wall, some 392 feet from the home plate, and they doubled their lead when third baseman Nick Madrigal’s single brought Cody Bellinger home.
It got worse for St Louis in the third. With two out and two strikes against Happ, Wainwright was one pitch away from getting out of the inning but Happ again went deep with a shot to right that landed in the Cardinals’ bullpen.
The Cubs made Wainwright pay as they extended the inning. Swanson and Bellinger hit singles before Christopher Morel’s line drive to centre field allowed Swanson to score and Bellinger came home on another line drive from catcher Yan Gomes.
Back-to-back doubles from Madrigal and Mike Tauchman at the top of the fourth saw the Cubs pad their lead even further and chased Wainwright from the game.
While Wainwright took an early shower, Cubs starter Justin Steele cruised through four innings without giving up a hit.
St Louis finally found a crack in the bottom of the sixth as Tommy Edman scored on a Paul Goldschmidt ground ball into right to give the Cardinals fans something to cheer, but it was too little, too late.
Parks and Recreation actor Nick Offerman was on hand to lead the crowd in a rendition of ‘Take Me Out To The Ball Game’ during the seventh-inning stretch before another famous Cubs fan, Bill Murray, took an ovation from fans.
Murray and the rest of the Cubs on hand would have more to celebrate in the top of the ninth when Swanson launched a two-run homer over the right-field wall to put an exclamation point on their win.