How The Yankees Helped Heal New York City
What has now become tradition for the eleven years since that tragic day, thousands gathered at Ground Zero yesterday to remember the victims of September 11th, 2001. The names of all 2,977 people who died that day were read aloud by family members and friends of the victims.
Being just a toddler, I can not say I remember 9/11 or fully understand what it meant to watch the events unfold live, either being in the city or watching from a t.v. Luckily, not one of my family members or friends were lost, but being a police officer, my father did go down to the site of the Twin Towers just hours after the colossal buildings fell. He stayed there for a couple of days, keeping civilians away from the hazardous area and helping with the rescue efforts.
My uncles and aunts as well, who still work 9 to 5 jobs in the city, recall watching the towers fall from their office buildings, and the nightmarish time they all had in trying to get home safe and sound. From many holiday dinners we are all blessed to still have together, I’ve heard each and every one of their takes on that unbelievable day.
Through my family’s memories, documentaries, and books, I’ve come to understand 9/11 and respect the event as much as a person my age can. And of all the specials and news reports shown on TV each time the anniversary comes around, the most fascinating and inspiring one to me is “Nine Innings from Ground Zero”, an HBO documentary from 2004.
If the title does not give it away, the film is about baseball following 9/11, and how the Yankees managed to help jumpstart the healing process of New Yorkers and Americans everywhere by their improbable and magical playoff run to the 2001 World Series.
As my family recalls and the film details, the city was in a state of confusion and grief. They had no idea what to do. Should they continue on with their lives, as if nothing had happened, or should they keep mourning and grieving the tragedy that to this day has effected every aspect of American life?
No one was sure. Not even Major League Baseball, as all major sporting events ceased immediately after September 11th. Not one game in any sport was played. The now demolished Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium operated as recovery stations, as hundreds of care packages containing food, clothing, and water were delivered to the streets that just days prior were filled with hopeful fans and buzzed with excitement.
Finally, the city realized the only way to try and move past the horror and pain of the attacks was to go back to doing what they know best – going to baseball games. The September 21st Mets game against the Braves proved to be a rejuvenating moment in the city’s recovery period, as Mike Piazza’s home run, Liza Minnelli’s rendition of “New York, New York”, and more importantly a win, got New Yorkers understanding baseball was a safe haven, just like it had always been to escape the burdens of everyday life.
Then the Yankees came back. And baseball history took place.
The three-time defending world champion Yankees steam-rolled into the playoffs with another AL East crown. The aging dynasty seemed destined for at least one more glorious run. As third baseman Scott Brosius was quoted saying, “…if there was ever a fair time for the Yankees to win the World Series, this was the year.”
But the Oakland A’s tried to stop that from happening. And it seemed like they would, as they took a 2-0 series lead in the 2001 ALDS. But thanks in large part to Derek Jeter’s “Flip Play”, timely hitting and clutch pitching, the Yanks won the next three straight and the series, to become the first team ever to come back and win an ALDS after being down 2-0.
The series win gave the Yankees and their fans a ton of confidence. Forget about the upcoming series – New York’s biggest concern about the Yankees was if they had enough ticker-tape to cover another grand world championship parade.
If the ALDS wasn’t enough to convince people, try the ALCS. The Yankees took down the 118-win Seattle Mariners in just 5 games, and just like that the Yankees were back in the World Series. The city could not have been more confident heading into a Fall Classic facing an expansion team in the Arizona Diamondbacks, filled with a lot of inexperienced and majorly unsuccessful veterans.
The greatest thing about this Yankee playoff run was how it really did take people’s minds off of the ongoing devastation and threat of further attacks in the city. For give or take three hours each day, people could engulf themselves in a childhood game, and watch not just any team play well, but New York’s team, the Yankees, surge to the championship.
Now back to the Fall Classic. Once again, the confidence and strength of the Yankees was zapped out of them, as they quickly lost the first two games to put themselves in a big hole to climb out of. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, the eventual co-MVPs of the series, were unstoppable, and it looked like the Yankees’ hopes of delivering a championship to their ailing city were all but lost.
But the series now shifted to the Bronx, at Yankee Stadium. And the Yankees were not going to let the Diamondbacks celebrate on their home field. Not that year, not after everything New York had gone through. So, as they’ve done countless of times before, the Yankees made postseason magic at the House That Ruth Built.
With a tattered American flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center waving atop Yankee Stadium’s scoreboard, President George W. Bush walked to the mound to throw out the first pitch of Game 3. He fired a perfect strike from the rubber, and gave a thumbs up to a full house at Yankee Stadium. Political allegiances aside, the stadium was united as Americans. Perhaps Bush’s appearance and show of support to the city may have been just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees and their fans.
Roger Clemens pitched a gem that night, and thanks to a game-winning RBI single by Scott Brosius in the 6th, the Yankees took Game 3 2-1, to infuse new life and confidence in the team.
The following night, which just so happened to be Halloween, would go down as one of the most legendary World Series games of all time. With righty Byung-Hyun Kim in for the save for Arizona in the bottom of the 9th, it did look bleak for the Yankees. A win in Game 4 would give the D-Backs a 3-1 series lead, with three more chances to win one more game.
Luckily, a fan favorite, in what would be one of his final games in pinstripes for a while, Tino Martinez stepped to the plate with a runner on and ended any thoughts of losing. He smacked a two-run home run into right-center that lifted the crowd to its feet, and the Yankees to a 3-3 tie with the four-year old Diamondbacks team.
As the game went into extras and the Yankees got their turn at-bat in the 10th, the clock struck midnight, marking November 1st and the first World Series game to ever be played in the 11th month of the year. The young Derek Jeter was at the plate, with Kim in fact still in the game, and with the scoreboard saying “Welcome to November Baseball”, on a 3-2 pitch the soon-to-be Captain hit a game-winning walk off home run to right field, clinching a Yankees’ 4-3 Game 4 victory.
Just like that, the World Series was all tied up, and New Yorkers couldn’t help but think it was destiny. The Yankees had to do it for the city. There was no way they could lose. Right?
Well, Game 5 sure convinced the doubters.
Once again down by 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th, with Byung-Hyun Kim in to try and redeem himself, the Yankees tried to get a rally started. Jorge Posada doubled to start the inning, but then two quick outs were made to put Arizona one more away from a series-controlling Game 5 win.
Standing in the way of that happening was Scott Brosius. After taking the first pitch for a ball, Brosius swung with all his might on the next one and deposited a game-tying, two run home run over the left field wall. People were in disbelief, shock, and awe, this time for a good and happy reason. The Yankees did it again. Back to-back game tying home runs in the bottom of the 9th in consecutive games? Get out of here. I would think you’re lying if there wasn’t film to prove it.
And after all of that, the game still wasn’t over. Yes it was tied, but that was all. The Yankees still needed to score another run to win it and head to Arizona with the series lead. And three innings later in the 12th, rookie second baseman Alfonso Soriano drove Chuck Knoblauch home with a walk-off single, ironically the game-winning hit being less remembered than the game-tying one. Either way, New York had now won all three games at Yankee Stadium to take a 3-2 series lead. They were one win away from winning their 27th World Championship, their fourth straight and fifth in the last six years. Talk about a dynasty.
With New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and many family members of those who died on 9/11 in attendance, the Yankees had to come back strong and win Game 7, not just for the team, but for the city that had gone through so much in the past couple months.
Shown in the documentary was a Game 7 viewing party which was set up in Rockefeller Center, as many of the Yankee faithful braced the fall cold to see their favorite team win the most important championship, potentially, in the history of New York City. Yankee flags adorned the poles surrounding Rockefeller Center, and whether you were in New York or Arizona, even after the Game 6 loss, you still felt Game 7 was for the Yankees to take.
39-year old Roger Clemens got the ball for the Yankees, while Curt Schilling was incredibly making his third start of the series for the Diamondbacks. This time, the Yankees brought their A game, at least on the pitching side, and entered the 8th inning in a 1-1 tie.
In later interviews, manager Joe Torre admitted to originally being reluctant to bring in Mariano Rivera to start the bottom of the 8th, as he would only bring him in if the Yankees had a lead. And at the time, it didn’t seem they’d get one for a while, as Curt Schilling was still in the game and pitching great. But all of that would change with one swing of the bat, by Alfonso Soriano.
On an 0-2 pitch, Soriano smacked a solo home run over the fence in left field. Everyone knew that he had just won the World Series for the Yankees, and that Schilling, though giving it his all, had lost it for Arizona. Having converted the last 23 straight save opportunities, Mariano Rivera’s entrance into the game seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for Arizona’s championship hopes.
New York couldn’t have been more sure that the World Series was theirs. How could anyone deny it? The Iron Man of all closers was coming into the game, and everything that had happened with 9/11, the anthrax cases, and the despair and depression of the most proud city in the world, only this championship, only the Yankees, could lift an entire nation’s hearts in winning another World Series.
After a brisk 1-2-3 bottom of the 8th inning for Rivera and the Yankees, the champagne was being put on ice. Modell’s stores in New York were prepping for overnight shifts. And kids were being allowed to stay up late on this Thursday night, as everyone was set to do what they had been doing for the past three straight years – celebrating another championship. But this one, you simply couldn’t miss, and couldn’t deny the importance of it.
Sure, Randy Johnson’s relief appearance for the Diamondbacks – getting all four batters he faced out – was impressive, but it didn’t matter, since New York still had the lead. He could do nothing to change the outcome of the game. It was up to the Diamondbacks’ hitters, going up against the goliath of all pitchers in baseball at the time.
Veteran Mark Grace led off the bottom of the 9th with a single to center. Yes, a runner was on base, but not every save is a 1-2-3 inning, especially in the postseason. So still, people felt confident.
But it would be the last bit of confidence Yankees fans would feel in the series. A bunt attempt by Damian Miller, fielded by Rivera, was thrown out of the reach of Derek Jeter and went into center field. The slick-fielding Mariano never missed his throws to second, and was trying to do what any pitcher would – get the lead runner out. But sure enough, the pinch-runner David Dellucci was at second, Miller was at first, and things quickly spun out of control for the Yankees, to the point of no return.
Mo rebounded and did in fact get Dellucci out at third, after fielding another bunt attempt this time by Jay Bell. Yet, instead of throwing to first base for the easy double play, third baseman Scott Brosius, who had been so clutch and so great for the Yankees in his four seasons with the team, held the ball and allowed Bell to reach base. So still, there were runners on first and second with only one out. And up came the future Yankee Tony Womack.
He smacked a double down the right field line on a 2-2 pitch, to tie the game up at 2. The save was now blown, and the lead was gone, and the hopes and dreams of the Yankees, their fans, and really the entire city, were gone in a blink of an eye. The worst part – the Yankees still had one out, and were not out of the inning. It would take a miracle to prevent another run from scoring.
Rivera then hit Craig Counsell to load the bases. If I had been watching this game live at my current age, I’m sure I would have been covering my eyes, trying to hide my tears and not see what was clearly going to happen.
As we all know, Diamondbacks’ slugger Luis Gonzalez lofted a walk-off single over the reach of a leaping Derek Jeter, to score the World Series-winning run. The Yankee dynasty had ended. The exciting and happy ride to this point in the playoffs was over. And the sinking, depressing feeling New Yorkers had felt weeks prior on September 11th, had returned.
The Yankees lost. They didn’t win it for the city. The weeks and months following were also painful, as people had to move on and accept life now without being able to escape from it nightly with exciting playoff baseball. The Yankees also lost Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius, Paul O’Neill, and Chuck Knoblauch that offseason, as fan favorites and the faces of that glorious run had either changed uniforms, or left the game entirely.
Immediately, it was extremely difficult. No matter the circumstances, no one wants to lose a World Series like that. Having the lead in the bottom of the 9th, with the best closer on the mound and not being able to get the job done is normally inexcusable and unacceptable.
Yet, 9/11 had made people realize the end to the World Series was not that important. It was every game that led up to it that was so special and so memorable. The Yankees did in fact lift the city up in the most difficult stage in its history. They couldn’t win the whole thing, but they won over the hearts of the mourning and provided a great escape to those who needed it most.
Sports-wise, it’s undoubtedly one of the greatest playoff runs and World Series in baseball history, that’s for certain. The very last play is what most remember, but what New Yorkers remember from that fall are the walk-off wins at Yankee Stadium. “Mr. November.” The Paul O’Neill chants in Game 5. The swagger and confidence the city regained after the attacks, knowing their team was playing hard for them, and most importantly, winning for them.
Once again, I don’t remember witnessing any of this. 9/11, the playoffs, or Game 7 of the World Series. But I can feel the emotions of New Yorkers and sense how it must have been like to be watching those incredible games. September 11th put a horrible cloud over the rest of the year of 2001. But not forgotten is how legendary and amazing the Yankees’ season and the Fall Classic turned out to be.
Yes, many people were lost on 9/11. So where the most iconic buildings in New York City. But as the horrible memories of that day flood back to the minds of people each year, so do the delightful memories of baseball, American pride, and love for each other.
The Twin Towers may not stand anymore. But one thing that will never go away, is the joy, unity, and excitement that postseason baseball brings to millions of peoples’ homes each fall.
This post is dedicated to all the lives lost on September 11th, 2001. May they rest in peace, and I hope the families of the victims have found comfort and closure in the years following that tragic and unforgettable day.