Piazza’s post-9/11 home run helped city heal

It's been nearly a decade since former New York Mets catcher Mike Piazza stepped into the batter's box against Atlanta Braves right-hander Steve Karsay on the night of Sept. 21, 2001, yet, he still can't talk about it without fighting off tears.

"I just remember that day and I distinctly remember praying and saying, ‘please God, help me get through this night,'" Piazza told ESPN's Bob Ley in an interview this past Sunday Sept. 11. "I didn't know if I could hold it together and I'm sure all of us were the same way; we were emotional wrecks."

Piazza's at-bat came in the first professional sporting event held in New York City following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

So, when he stepped to the plate with a runner on first base in the eighth inning of a one-run game, it was more than just a chance to lift his team over a division rival; it was a chance to lift a mourning city from its knees.

Down a strike, Piazza prepared for Karsay's offering: a fastball intended for the outside corner of the plate. The ball instead tailed towards the middle and Piazza lunged at it with everything he had.

The initial crack of the bat brought the crowd to its feet and as it sailed over the left centerfield wall, the Shea Stadium faithful exploded with chants of "USA! USA! USA!"

"It was almost like a blur to me; it was almost like a dream, sort of surreal," Piazza said in an interview with MLB.com. "People obviously found [the homerun] a way to find some sort of joy or happiness or inspiration but for me, again, I try and keep it in perspective."

For that brief moment, the city of New York was given a small measure of healing. No matter how trivial a baseball game seemed, you couldn't deny that Piazza's homerun meant something special. It meant something for the fans, for the city and for the nation.

That night everyone was a New Yorker.

Even long-time Mets nemesis and recipient of more than his fair share of Shea Stadium boos Chipper Jones couldn't help but reflect positively on his team's loss that night.

"I think each and every one of us will tell you if there's one game in our entire careers that we didn't mind losing, it was that one," Jones said. "You just felt that divine intervention was in New York's corner that day. We didn't mind it a bit."

Divine intervention or not, 10 years later Piazza's homerun remains one of the greatest moments in Mets franchise history – in New York sports history for that matter. With one swing, one man united a city in desperate need of some hope.

Piazza eventually retired from baseball after the 2007 season with 427-career homeruns – certainly none bigger than the one he hit that night.