Friday September 21st, 2001: On this now legendary night, baseball returned to New York City for the first time since the tragic attacks of 911.
The Mets (75-73) entered the game in third place on a hot streak, just 4 1/2 games back of the Braves (79-68). The reigning N.L. Champion Mets, were indeed back in the pennant race. It was their best stretch of the season. They had won ten out of their last twelve games, and twenty of their last twenty six games.
Mets manager Bobby Valentine, sent pitcher; Bruce Chen to the mound to face off against a native New Yorker, Atlanta's Jason Marquis.
Leadoff batter Marcus Giles drew a walk, but was erased on a line drive double off the bat of Julio Franco. In the bottom of the 1st, Mike Piazza fittingly got the first hit of the game, a double to left field.
In the visiting 4th, the Braves Chipper Jones singled & scored on a Ken Caminiti double, it was 1-0 Braves. But the Mets came right back in the bottom of the inning. Mike Piazza doubled for the second time in as many at bats, Robin Ventura then singled. Tsuyoshi Shinjo hit a sac fly, scoring Piazza to tie it at one.
The two pitchers allowed just one run each before both getting relieved in the 7th inning.
In the bottom of the 8th inning, Atlanta's Steve Karsay came in to pitch. Karsay another native New Yorker, was born in Flushing, Queens just a baseball throw over to Shea Stadium. He then attended high school in Middle Village, Queens New York.
Matt Lawton led off with a ground out to short. Karsay then walked Edgardo Alfonzo. Desi Relaford came in to pinch run and the Mets best hitter, Mike Piazza came to bat.
It was more than just a HR, more than just putting the Mets ahead. The HR meant so much to the city of New York & America as a nation.
Mets broadcaster Howie Rose may have put it best, he said he saw fire fighters smile as Piazza rounded the bases. There is no doubt that that man lost friends, colleges & maybe even family members on that tragic day of 911.
But some how this HR in a game of baseball made him happy & forget his troubles for at least a moment. Thats when he realized it was good that baseball was back on the field again.
As the years have gone by, the legend of this HR has even grown larger than life itself. It will never be forgotten.
Armando Benitez came back in the 9th inning with the fans on their feet & still excited. Javier Lopez led off with a single & everyone held their breath as Armando was at it again. But on this night, even he came through. He struck out BJ Surhoff & closed out the 9th inning by striking out Gary Mathews Jr.
The Mets had a dramatic 3-2 vctory and pulled even closer to the Braves. The Mets won five straight & got to within three games of Atlanta. Then they eventually lost six of nine & fell out of the race.
Trivia: Even one of the most hated Mets opponents of that era; Chipper Jones, admitted it was the only time that he didn't mind losing a game, because of what it meant for New York City, baseball & the Country in the wake of tragedy.