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Yankees Gave Hope in Time of Despair

It was Monday September 10, 2001, and I was on my way to the Bronx to see the Yankees take on the Boston Red Sox. The entire day was cloudy, rain here and there, but when my parents and I got to the stadium, the skies opened up. Lightning, purple sky, torrential downpour – it looked like the world was ending. We got into the ballpark and I took a seat in the right field bleachers. Five minutes later, Bob Sheppard’s booming voice came over the PA system and announced the game was postponed. We shuffled out and headed home, about a 40 minute drive north of the city. I went to sleep to the sound of pouring rain on the roof of my house, and woke up to crisp sunshine on my face on that fateful Tuesday morning.

For so many of us, September 11, 2001 changed a lot of things. Even eleven years later, the magnitude of the event is still hard to wrap my mind around. But what it didn’t change was America’s pastime. See, baseball has been the one constant throughout this country, it has stood the test of time. In 2001, like so many people around the nation and especially in the New York City area, the Yankees were the one thing you could watch and forget just for a little bit about what was happening a few miles away in Manhattan. The 2001 Yankees were a special team, offering hope to many who had lost it. As a young boy then, only 12 years old, I looked to them in a time of confusion. Everyone knows you either love the Yankees or hate them, there’s no in-between. But as baseball resumed after about a one week layoff, fans all over the country began to root for New York. The Mets’ Mike Piazza hit a dramatic home run against the Braves in the first sporting event in New York when baseball returned. The country rallied around the New York area sports teams.

As October began and the season ended, the Yankees were eyeing their fourth straight World Series Championship. The Playoffs didn’t start well, as they lost the first two games in a best of five series at home to Oakland. Heading out west, they faced elimination, their backs against the wall, forced to do something – they needed a miracle. In Game 3, the A’s were down by a run in the seventh inning as Terrence Long ripped a double down the right field line. Jeremy Giambi was on-base, and was coming around third heading for home almost guaranteeing a tie game. Shane Spencer fielded the ball and hurled it in, but it was thrown over Tino Martinez’s head just off the first-base line. Derek Jeter came and sprinted out of nowhere to retrieve the ball, and backhanded it to Jorge Posada who tagged Giambi out to preserve the lead. I remember watching this in amazement, speechless. Thinking one second the lead was gone, then jumping up and down in my living room the next. The Yankees held on to win that game and Game Four, and headed home to New York where they finished off the job.

The Yankees beat the “unbeatable” team in the 2001 ALCS, the 116 win Seattle Mariners to advance to the fall classic. In the World Series, they faced off against the Arizona Diamondbacks, a fairly new franchise in baseball at the time. It was what happened in the World Series that really gave New York and the nation hope. Before Game Three, President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium. He stood on the mound, acknowledged the crowd and put his thumb up in the air, as if to say “I’m with you, we’re going to be alright.” The Yankees went on to to win that game by a score of 2-1.

Down two games to one, and essentially facing the end of their season, the Yankees came to bat in the ninth inning of Game Four down by a score of 3-1. Enter Diamondback Closer Byung-Hyun Kim. Jeter attempted to bunt, but was gunned down at first. One out. Paul O’Neill singled to left field, and up came Bernie Williams who struck out. Two out. Tino Martinez stepped in and launched the first pitch he saw from Kim over the right-center-field wall to tie the game at 3. In the 10th inning, as the clock struck midnight and baseball entered the month of November for the first time in it’s history, Jeter dug into the box. Trying to start a rally, Jeter worked the count to 3-2. On the next pitch, “Mr. November” sent the ball to right field, a typical Jeter swing. The game was over, New York had crawled back from the depths and the series was tied 2-2.

There was no way to top Game Four, right? There was no way to expect another game like that. Wrong.

As Yogi Berra said, it was “Deja Vu all over again.” Once again, the Yanks were down by two runs in the ninth as Kim came in to close it out. Jorge Posada doubled to lead off the inning, but Kim retired the next two batters in order, bringing up third basemen Scott Brosius. Brosius sent the second pitch he saw over the wall in left, sending the Stadium and the city into a frenzy – the game was tied 2-2. It happened again, for the second straight night, as John Sterling said it was “probably the most amazing feat in World Series history,” Trailing by two runs and down to their last out in back-to-back nights. In the 12th inning, Alfonso Soriano knocked in Chuck Knoblauch with the game winning run.

The Yankees went back to Arizona with a chance to win the series, but lost Game Six 15-2. In Game Seven, an all-time classic, Mariano Rivera and the Yankees lost in the ninth inning, giving the Diamondbacks their first championship.

Seeing highlights now eleven years later of Games Three and Four gives me chills. Not just because they were great comebacks, but because of what it meant and the symbolism it held for the grieving city and the country. The Yankees showed that no matter what, there was no such thing as quitting, no such thing as being down and out. Even though their backs were against the wall, they found a way and fought back. The 2001 Yankees were a symbol for the whole country to look at and baseball was the platform that could be leaned on through tough times. For about three hours, everything was focussed on what was happening between the white lines. Baseball was a crutch then, it will be a crutch in the future.

As the Yankees take on the Red Sox this September 11, this time in Boston, it’s hard not to think about that sunshine splashed day in 2001. As each anniversary rolls by, I always think about that postseason in ’01, and how it helped a country and city come together.