Remembering Mets History (2001) Mike Piazza's Post 911 HR

Friday September 21st, 2001: On this historical night, baseball returned to New York City for the first time since the tragic attacks of 911.

The city was trying to move forward & people were needing something to divert their attention from the sadness of the past ten days.

Tonight 41, 235 fans came out to Shea Stadium on a very emotional night. There was a sense of unity, as Americans, as New Yorkers & as a people.  Baseball certainly took a back seat to the importance of things, but on this night, it also brought some kind of normalcy, if not for just a few hours.

Before the game there was a very moving ceremony honoring the victims of 911. 
There were special honored guests on hand; as New York City firemen, policemen & other emergency workers were also recognized & honored. 

The evening's events included, Diana Ross singing "God Bless America" - Liza Minelli singing "New York, New York".

The New York Mets (74-73) hosted their rival Atlanta Braves (79-67). Both teams lined up from home plate down the baselines for the pregame. 

Singer Mark Anthony then sang a very emotional National Anthem as the many in the crowd shed tears & a strong sense of Patriotism took over. 

After the opening ceremonies, the two rival teams put their differences aside, shook hands, hugged each other & proceeded to play ball. The crowd cheered "USA-USA".

Bobby Valentine's Mets (75-73) entered the game in third place on a hot streak, just 4.5 games back of the Braves (79-68) & 0.5 games behind the Phillies (79-69).

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. The division was more of a reality than the wild card race that had six teams fighting for the top spot with the Mets six back.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine sent Bruce Chen (7-6) to the mound to face off against native New Yorker, Atlanta's Jason Marquis (3-6).



The crowd cheered after the first pitch was thrown out. Leadoff batter Marcus Giles drew a walk but was erased on a line drive from Julio Franco to Todd Zeile at first, who snagged & got Giles for the double play. Chen then got Chipper Jones to look at a third strike.

In the bottom of the 1st, Matt Lawton & Edgardo Alfonso both hit fly ball outs. Then Mike Piazza fittingly got the first hit of the game, a double to left field.

In the top of the 4th, the Braves Chipper Jones singled & scored the first run of the game on Ken Caminiti's 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 followed with a base hit. 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. Chen had given up six Braves hirs, struck out five & walked one. Marquis gave up seven Mets hits, struck out four & didn't issue any walks.

The Mets native New Yorker, John Franco came in for the 8th. He retired the first two batters then walked Julio Franco. Chipper Jones then lined a base hit to center field. Bobby Valentine came to the mound, took the ball from Franco & brought in Armando Benitez. Benitez surrendered the go ahead run, a double to Brian Jordan.

In the bottom of the 8th inning, Atlanta's Steve Karsay came in to pitch. Karsay was yet another native New Yorker. Karsay was born in Flushing & attended high school in Middle Village, Queens.

The Mets' Matt Lawton led off with a ground out to short. Karsay then walked Edgardo Alfonzo. Desi Relaford came in to pinch run for Alfonso as the Mets best hitter, Mike Piazza came to bat.

In the most dramatic story book fashion, Piazza blasted a long HR over the Shea Stadium fence, bringing the crowd into a frenzy. 

As a matter of fact for a brief moment, all of New York city went into to a frenzy. It was one of the most important HRs in Piazza's career, one of the most important HRs in Mets history, as well as in American baseball history. 

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, the families of the victims, the emergency workers in attendance & 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 had lost friends, colleges & maybe even family members on that tragic day of 911. 

But somehow this HR in a game of baseball made him happy & forget his troubles for at least a moment. That's 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. 
It somehow symbolized that New York City as well as America was back & moving forward. 

It was Piazza's 34th HR of the year, putting the Mets ahead 3-2. Piazza had three hits on the night, bringing his average up to just under the .300 mark.

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 victory 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. Chipper certainly earned some respect from this Mets fan.


Comments

Anonymous said…
Dude, you don't give Piazza's blast much credit now. That monster went to center field. Not only did it clear the 410 sign with room to spare but it almost went over the speaker system in the 'batter's eye'. I think only Agee's shot in 1970 went further at Shea. Such an epic homer.

I live in Richmond, VA and listened to the game on 660 in my car. I clearly remember pounding on my steering wheel and screaming as if I was at Shea when the blast was hit. (Luckily I didn't cause an accident!)

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