One Line Summary: Where the defending NL champions—and everyone else—remember that baseball is just a game.
Coming off the club’s first pennant since 1986, the Mets went 18-10 in spring training—the best record of any NL team. It took them until May 21 to win that many games that counted; by then the Mets were eight games under .500 and eight games out of first. And still the club kept dropping through the standings.
As summer dragged on, they had traded bullpen fixtures Turk Wendell and Dennis Cook, and dispatched former October hero Todd Pratt—sending all three to Philadelphia. And in the most shocking move of all, Rick Reed, signed to a three-year deal worth $21 million the previous winter, was shipped to the Twins at the trade deadline for outfielder Matt Lawton. By August 17 the defending NL champs had become unwatchable. Losers of seven straight, the Mets stood 14 games under .500 and 13½ games behind the first-place Braves. And then everything came together.
The Mets resumed being the team that had made the postseason the previous two seasons. The Mets went on a 20-5 run and threatened the Braves and second-place Phillies in the NL East, but on the morning of September 11, it was all rendered insignificant. The entire world stopped the instant the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
With Shea Stadium serving as a staging area following the World Trade Center tragedy, Mets manager Bobby Valentine packed and unloaded supplies for rescuers while coordinating help from his players. Valentine made appearances, contributed money and food from his restaurant, and worked tirelessly to assist those who needed it. Valentine and many Mets spent time with the families who’d lost loved ones, and the manager made sure his players understood what the team meant to people in the city and the region.
Ten days after the tragedy—with Major League Baseball postponing the schedule for six days—baseball returned to New York. Shea Stadium had reverted back into a ballpark and 41,236 came to see the first outdoor sporting event since the attacks. The Mets, who had swept a series in Pittsburgh when the games resumed, continued to wear hats to honor the services whose people had risked all for the city. Their sleeve was embroidered simply “9-11-01.” With a man on and the Mets trailing by a run to nemesis Atlanta in the eighth inning of that first game back at Shea, Mike Piazza launched a low fastball from Steve Karsay 420 feet. After all that had happened, here was a great moment, a baseball moment, that could make people enjoy a game, if only for a few seconds. When the emotion of all that had happened flowed in, it made you want to cry. About everything.
Mets fans will never forget. The Mets, who in a span of 27 games had made up 10 games in the standings, were tripped up by a pair of agonizing losses to the Braves. Yet the efforts (both sung and unsung) of Piazza, Valentine, and everyone else in the organization are still among the proudest moments in franchise history. Shea Stadium did its duty. So did its team.By Matt Silverman
- Bobby Valentine, Matt Lawton, Mike Piazza, Rick Reed, Shea Stadium, Todd Pratt, Turk Wendell