ESPN begins MLB Encore Tuesdays, a series of classic game broadcasts, March 31 at 7 p.m. ET with the contest between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets played Sept. 21, 2001, at Shea Stadium.
• What you need to know while you watch: Ten days after the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Mets hosted the Braves in the first professional sporting event held in New York since that day. Instead of Mets caps, the players would wear New York police, fire and EMS hats. Marc Anthony sang the national anthem. Diana Ross sang “God Bless America” as fans waved American flags. There was also a baseball game to be played, with the Mets on the fringe of the playoff race, 5½ games behind the Braves in the NL East.
• Did you know? Mike Piazza had four go-ahead home runs in the eighth inning or later in 2001 and 13 during his time with the Mets, tied for the most in franchise history.
• The view from the press box (from Ian O’Connor’s 2016 story, “The night Mike Piazza became a Hall of Famer”): American flags were everywhere in Shea Stadium, and inside the lighted replica of the Manhattan skyline above the scoreboard, the darkened Twin Towers were graced by a red, white and blue ribbon. The Mets and Atlanta Braves, bitter rivals, hugged each other in the pregame, and the crowd would chant for a Yankees fan, Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Later on, during the seventh-inning stretch, Liza Minnelli blew the lid off the place with a rendition of “New York, New York” that included a kick line of cops and firefighters, and a punctuating hug and a kiss for Jay Payton, the Mets batter waiting on deck.
Nearly everyone the Mets came across at Ground Zero told them to keep wearing those caps honoring the cops, firefighters, Port Authority police and emergency services personnel. When some tone-deaf suits in the MLB properties division pressed for the Mets to go back to wearing their official team caps, Todd Zeile said, “As far as we’re concerned, they’re going to have to tear the hats off of us.”
• The view from the field: Current Nationals manager Dave Martinez was a member of the Braves, but he was also a New Yorker. Reflecting on the game while talking about the impact of COVID-19 on MLB today, Martinez remembered, “I know we’re all so competitive and we all want to win, but in that particular moment for me, it was like, ‘You know what, this is what the game’s all about. Win or lose, this is what the game is all about.’ Watching and listening to the fans stand up and cheer like they did, it was phenomenal.”
• One thing you might miss: That’s Chipper Jones, longtime Mets nemesis, playing left field for the Braves, not third base. Chipper started just eight games in left field that season, but would become the full-time left fielder in both 2002 and 2003. Jones figures into the action in the fourth inning when he scores from first base on a double — he would have been out at home plate except catcher Mike Piazza dropped the ball on the relay throw and was charged with an error.
• You probably forgot he was in this game: Martinez entered the game as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement at first base for the Braves. Martinez was in the final season of his 16-year big league career. But someone who was not in his final season was Atlanta’s starter at first base: Julio Franco. Even though he was 43, Franco would, remarkably, play another six seasons in the majors.
• Quote of note: “It was the most incredible moment I’ve ever experienced. Mike stepped forward and did exactly what the script told him to do, and there’s never been a win that’s felt as good as that one.” — Mets manager Bobby Valentine