America took a moment to pause today, to take a breath, to pray for those fallen, to remember, to always remember, and reflect upon that horrible day twenty years ago when our country was attacked by terrorists in New York City, at the Pentagon, and what became an unexpected crash site in Pennsylvania.
Baseball took their moment to commemorate the occasion by intentionally scheduling the Yankees against the Mets in their annual home and home Subway Series games, this weekend at Citi Field.
In a very unique one-of-a-kind pre-game ceremony, the city came together as one and for a moment or two, put aside their allegiances and actually cheered both teams bracketed by collective chants of “U S A, U S A.”
Spontaneously, the crowd started chanting, “Let’s Go Yankees, Let’s Go Mets” in sequence, and it sure sounded like the same fans were voicing both cheers.
Later during the game, fans opted for their longtime allegiances, and you could hear the differences with alternating chants.
The stadium was packed in one of the few sellouts (43,144 through the turnstiles) thus far this season – traffic was a nightmare getting into the ballpark with the US Open fans also crowding the highways at the same time. Flags were unfurled, a combined cities services fife and drum corps banged their drums and played their bagpipes, the new Governor, Kathy Hochul, was on hand along with other political dignitaries, ex-Mets accompanied members of the NYPD, FDNY, Port Authority Police and other city servants onto the field, the players from both teams staged an on-field hug-fest mimicking the occasion when the Braves and Mets got cozy in the first game after 9/11, and former managers Bobby Valentine and Joe Torre were on hand to simultaneously throw out the first pitch.
Former Mets back for the occasion included: Mookie Wilson, Jay Payton, John Franco, Glendon Rusch, Rey Ordonez, Edgardo Alfonzo, Steve Trachsel, Lee Mazzilli, Todd Zeile, Al Leiter, and Hall of Famer Mike Piazza.
The Mets revived their all-white unis, only this time, the home whites spelled New York across the fronts instead of “Mets.” The Yankees were in their traditional road greys.
And when the teams took the field for a group introduction, instead of each lining up on opposing baselines, they shook hands and hugged, and spread themselves along both baselines as “one New York team.”
That was a first, seeing Alonso and Judge hugging it out, Brandon Nimmo sandwiched between Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, Javy Baez standing shoulder to shoulder with his former teammate from Chicago, Anthony Rizzo, and so on.
And of course, members of the NYPD and FDNY were prevalent throughout the ballpark. Just two days earlier, the FDNY iced the NYPD, 7-4, in their annual hockey game at Madison Square Garden. The game was postponed last year due to Covid, and was pushed back even further from this past spring due to concerns, but it made sense to use it to springboard the 9/11 commemorations.
Both teams were officially allowed to wear caps featuring the logos of the FDNY, NYPD, and Port Authority Police on the field and during the game. There was some controversy concerning that concept in 2001. The Mets chose to wear the cities services caps during their games following 9/11. MLB officially, at first, said no, it’s not part of your official uniform. But the Mets players, led by New York born-and-bred John Franco basically gave a New York salute to that idea, and said, “Go ahead and fine us, we’re wearing them.”
Memories of that legendary first-game-back ten days after the attacks in 2001 were in constant conversation. Everyone knew someone who was affected by the attacks.
The Mets and Braves, bitter rivals then as now, faced off in a game that felt like the whole world was watching. Debates at the time questioned whether or not it was too soon or just right to resume playing a sport while the Twin Towers laid in ruins. Would they be creating another concentration of people as targets?
Mets GM Steve Phillips now talks about conversations with officials pre-game about exit strategies should the ballpark become attacked. Everyone was on high alert.
The tension-filled affair found the Braves leading 2-1 in the eighth. Braves skipper Bobby Cox brought in reliever Steve Karsay, who hailed from nearby College Point. Alfonzo walked, then Piazza re-qualified his Hall of Fame plaque on the second pitch with a blast over the centerfield wall for the eventual 3-2 win.
Cox has long stated it was the only game of his career he didn’t mind losing, recognizing its importance to the city of New York, and in a sense, to America.
Braves leftfielder – and future Hall of Famer – Larry “Chipper” Jones seconded that notion and will now tell you how he motioned to his centerfielder that night, Andruw Jones, and say he “called” Piazza’s home run.
Chipper also acknowledges the game’s significance.
“There was a 21-gun salute in left field” said Jones. “And my father always told me, if you ever see a 21-gun salute, you’ll never forget it. When I went out to my position in left field, there were still some shell casings from the 21-gun salute. I picked some up and put them in my pocket, and I still have them to this day.”
Piazza admits having the ability to slow the game down at its most crucial moments. His clutch home run is even referenced on his Hall of Fame plaque. Mementos from that game are in the Hall of Fame.
Historic moment. Historic game.
And now nearly twenty years later, another ballgame happened. Not quite as significant, but extremely exciting, a see-saw battle, and a game all New York baseball fans might possibly earmark as a turning point in the season for opposite reasons.
The Yankees got two runners on in the first against Taijuan Walker but failed to score when Rizzo weakly grounded out to the pitcher. The Mets earned one hit in the bottom of the frame with a Michael Conforto single into rightfield, but Pete Alonso struck out swinging to end that minor threat.
Th Yankees banged out three home runs in the second against Walker – blasted by Kyle Higashioka, Brett Gardner, and Judge – and went back to the field with a 5-0 lead.
The Mets got three back right away, stringing three hits with a double by Kevin Pillar, a near-home run triple by James McCann, and a believe-it-or-not sharp single to right by Walker to plate the third run.
They got one step closer with a Baez solo shot in the third off Yankees starter Corey Kluber.
Then took the lead with a two-run blast to left by McCann off Chad Green in the sixth.
The Bronx contingent came back to tie it with a two-run moonshot by Judge off Trevor May in the eighth. Then took the lead once more after Stanton singled, was pinch-run by Andrew Velasquez, who later scored when Baez airmailed a throw to first for an error.
The Mets almost jumped back on top in the eighth. With two on and two out, Alonso launched an arc that pushed Gardner in centerfield almost to the back wall at the 408-foot marker before hauling it in to close out that inning.
In the end it came down to Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman battling McCann with the tieing run on third with two out in the ninth. Chappy won that exchange when McCann flew out to right to end the nearly four-hour contest.
Final score, Yankees 8, Mets 7.
But chalk one up for New York City as well.