Osama bin Laden has finally been caught and killed. And in a "where were you when it happened?" memory, I'll always link Sunday night's New York Mets-Philadelphia Phillies game with that great moment in history, as I was watching the ESPN broadcast when the announcement was made. The initial rumblings were the "U-S-A!" chants, which were confusing at first, until the announcers broke the news. Did I doze off and wake up to an Olympic hockey game? At my age, you never know when you're going to suddenly fall asleep -- or wake up -- so that wouldn't have been too surprising. But apparently I was awake the whole time, and as a sports fan, one of the first things your mind flashes back to when the subject of 9/11 comes up is the first baseball game played in New York City after the World Trade Center attacks.
The Mets defeated the Atlanta Braves, 3-2, on September 21, 2001, thanks to Mike Piazza's dramatic two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, of course. On September 11, I went to work in Midtown Manhattan as always, but when I arrived, most of my fellow employees were gathered round a TV in a conference room as the first plane had already hit. And we watched live as the second plane crashed into the other tower. We were then told it was probably a good idea to leave. I got hold of my fiancée (oh yeah, were supposed to be getting married at a reception hall Downtown in 12 days), and we met near the entrance to the 59th Street Bridge. We walked over the bridge back to Astoria, Queens, with thousands of others, who all amazingly marched calmly and with a certain uneasy camaraderie. I kept looking over my shoulder at the Empire State Building. Maybe that was next. We had no idea if the World Trade Center was just the beginning or the end of the attack.
On that Friday, the 21st, I missed that Mets game because my family and future wife's relatives made it into town in the nick of time, as air space opened up once again and New York City below 14 Street had also finally opened up. We all ate dinner together, and when I made it back to my apartment, I watched the highlights of the game, and thought, as I'm sure everyone else did too, the game couldn't have ended more perfectly. The Mets win on a home run? Hit by Piazza? Did Hollywood write this script? The crowd went wild, and tears flowed. And now we have another storybook ending. Justice prevailed, and the bad guy was killed. This isn't the real ending of course. When Adolph Hitler died, that didn't end World War II. And the War on Terror goes on. But 9/11, the Mets and baseball are linked once again for me. And hey, the Mets won this time, too. Sometimes there is a happy ending, however briefly it lasts.
And now on to the top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Welcome to New York: The New York Giants went with the "best player available" philosophy in the first few rounds of the draft, while the New York Jets went for need. The general consensus is that both teams did well overall. Maybe the Giants should have picked an offensive lineman or linebacker earlier, but I'm actually looking forward to seeing how Jerrel Jernigan will pan out. Big Blue seems to ignore the importance of having a dynamic return man, and maybe, finally, they have one. The Jets picked up a couple of much-needed defensive linemen, along with a few "troubled" players, but they will, of course, fit right in with Rex Ryan's crew. Here's the full list of draftees for both teams. Giants: CB Prince Amukamara, DT Marvin Austin, WR Jernigan, OT James Brewer, LB Greg Jones, S Tyler Sash, LB Jacquian Williams, RB Da'Rel Scott; Jets: DE Muhammud Wilkerson, DT Kenrick Ellis, RB Bilal Powell, WR Jeremy Kerley, QB Greg McElroy, WR Scotty McKnight. So, now what happens? No one knows, as the NFL is shut down for business once again. But Eli Manning and Mark Sanchez are taking matters into their own hands, as they're both running practices on their own.
Back in Last: Well, it looks like that six-game winning streak was a mere fluke instead of a momentum-builder. The Mets have been on a steady path to mediocrity ever since that blip in the season. They couldn't even come through with a victory on Tuesday night, when the scene was set for a feel-good outcome, being the first game in New York since Osama bin Laden was killed. The talking points for Met analysts now center on fire sales as opposed to competing for the playoffs. And I guess it makes sense, as they're back in last place once again and are battling for that lonely spot in the basement of the National League. Jose Reyes is the first name to pop up in trade discussions, just as he had a uniquely productive game in Tuesday's loss, by getting on base six times, via two singles, a double and three walks (he also scored a run, drove one in and stole a base). It wasn't quite as impressive as Edgardo Alfonzo's six-for-six, three-home-run game in Houston back in 1999, but Reyes' performance was memorable nonetheless (especially the trio of bases on balls, which is un-Reyes-like). One good omen for the Mets, though: Mike Pelfrey pitched his best game of the season on Thursday and got 13 groundball outs to boot, and that now makes two out of three top-notch starts for the struggling hurler. Ok, another good sign: Carlos Beltran continues to rake. But poor Chin-lung Hu is batting .059. How long will he last? The countdown is on.
Staying in First: This year's New York Yankees aren't looking like a juggernaut, nor are they doing anything special (well, except hitting home runs at a record-setting pace), but what they are doing is winning series, up until the four-game set in Detroit, that is. They've been in first place for most of the season, and are doing it at a slow and steady pace. Their season-series record stands at 6-2-2. And that's how you stay on top. If you don't have long winning streaks or multiple sweeps, but just keep on winning two out of three or three out of four, everything will be copasetic. Of course, it helps that the other four AL East teams are all hovering around the .500 mark. The hitting came and went this week. While Brett Gardner broke out of a slump, Alex Rodriguez was immersed in one (though two hits coming off the bench in Thursday's loss may be a sign that he's ready to break out of it). Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Nick Swisher continue to underperform, though Swisher drove in the game-winning run on Monday. With the high-on-base-percentage guys like Jeter, Gardner and Swisher not pulling their weight, the Yanks just can't score unless they're belting home runs. They're still in first, but are they sinking or was the series loss in Detroit just a minor speed bump?
Random Notes: The Yankees and Mets both got their backup catchers back over the weekend. Both made their starting-lineup debuts on Sunday, and both played key roles in their teams' victories. Francisco Cervelli drove in the game-tying run, and Ronny Paulino not only piled up five hits in Sunday's memorable 14-inning win, but he knocked in the winning run. Jenrry Mejia, who was in the midst of an impressive season down in Buffalo, has a torn MCL, and will most likely need surgery, meaning we won't see him for a while. The Phil Hughes mystery continues. He does not have a circulation or vascular problem, which is good news. So what's wrong with him? No one knows. He was given a cortisone shot, though, which made him feel much, much better. Jeter may or may not have a hip injury. Eric Chavez broke his foot running (how does that happen?). Jason Bay left for a few days on paternity leave, and was replaced by Lucas Duda, but Bay quickly returned and was in Thursday's lineup. And Pedro Beato and his 0.00 ERA is the latest Met to head to the disabled list, with Mike O'Connor replacing him in the bullpen.
Predictable Prediction & Unpredictable Sanity: On his book tour, Rex Ryan once again predicted that the Jets would win the Super Bowl. It's possible that someday he just be right. Of course, he may be on his death bed when it comes true, but he's going to keep on making that same old prognostication. And in a brief moment of clear-headed sanity, James Dolan actually promised Donnie Walsh that he would not hire Isiah Thomas again. I repeat, James Dolan is not hiring Isiah Thomas. I think we should throw a parade.
Happy Birthday: May 6 is, of course, one of the great days in the world of baseball, because it's Willie Mays' birthday. The greatest center fielder ever to play the game turns 80 years old today. Is he the greatest all-around player ever, when taking into account hitting, hitting for power, fielding, throwing and running? I'd vote yes. Babe Ruth is in a category all his own, with his stellar pitching career that goes along with being the greatest hitter ever.