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Never in my life as a Mets fan have I ever cared less about what the final score was.
On the evening of September 21, 2001, Shea Stadium hosted the first sporting event in New York since the World Trade Center attacks. Tensions were high, security was tight, the city still reeling with emotion.
With one swing, Mike Piazza made it all go away, if only for a moment.
Piazza’s majestic two-run home run to center field in the bottom of the eighth was a game-winning home run – a win that pulled the Mets to within 4 ½ games of the hated, NL East-leading Atlanta Braves.
But it went way beyond baseball standings.
Only 12 at the time, it was still impossible for me to not understand the significance of the game. I remember being more afraid than anything else – afraid terrorists would target a sporting event next, afraid for the players and fans in attendance, hoping beyond hope nothing would happen to make an already awful situation worse.
The night became memorable for reasons that had nothing to do with terrorism.
It was a surreal thing to behold: the Mets and Braves greeting each other with handshakes and hugs before the game. Big, bad Mike Piazza openly crying. Bobby Valentine trying his damndest to look as happy and proud as possible. For the first time, I found it difficult to even find anything bad to say about Chipper Jones.
To this day I’ve never seen a baseball game that felt less like a baseball game. Between the thousands of American flags all around the stadium, the dozens (if not hundreds) of firefighters, police officers, Marines and soldiers, Liza Minnelli’s rendition of “New York, New York” – whatever the whole thing was, it definitely wasn’t a baseball game.
The only time it felt like a baseball game was when Piazza stepped to the plate in the eighth inning and blasted that ball into the night.
Everything about that moment was perfect. The player (Piazza was and is the most significant player in Mets history not named Tom Seaver). The classic Piazza swing. The way the ball exploded off his bat. The way it sailed into the New York air. WFAN’s Howie Rose on the call. The way the stadium immediately went bonkers. Piazza’s curtain call.
It was magical.
Any time I see footage of that home run, my eyes mist over. I can feel the sniffles coming. I can feel my eyelashes blinking faster.
But I always watch. How could you not? Didn’t you know that home run had immense healing powers?
That home run gave New Yorkers a reason to cheer, a reason to celebrate, a reason to forget.
That’s why it’s a home run no Mets fan will ever forget.