However small, diversion of baseball welcome
Members of Yankees and Angels team up to honor 9/11 heroes
ANAHEIM -- Solemn remembrance mingled with two contemporary division races at Angel Stadium on Sunday.
As far apart as these events were, the effect was not at all jarring. This was another example of the role, small but noticeable, that a game can play in helping to heal a national tragedy.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New York Yankees lined the foul lines in pregame ceremonies to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. On this 10th anniversary of that tragedy, the teams honored those involved in rescue and recovery efforts in the wake of those attacks.
Three of these first responders to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and three Navy SEALs threw ceremonial first pitches to three members of each club. It was a genuinely touching event. The very presence of the New York team set this remembrance apart.
"Having the Yankees here is very special, and we'll have a lot of emotions and mixed feelings," Angels right fielder Torii Hunter said. "But ... every day you're going to think about 9/11, and every time you think about New York, you're going to think about it. It will be there forever."
Fittingly enough, the three Yankees receiving the first pitches were the three Yankees who were players on the 2001 roster -- Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera.
"I wish we were home, with the people of New York," Posada said. "But we're here and I'm happy for the first pitches today."
Also on hand and standing next to Yankees manager Joe Girardi for the ceremonies was Joe Torre, the Yankees' manager in 2001, now Major League Baseball's executive vice president of on-field operations. Torre's human sensibility was never more in evidence than in the aftermath of 9/11, as he and his players reached out to those damaged by the tragic events.
The memories of 9/11 are still painful. Those memories can never be anything other than painful. But as Girardi had said in his pregame media session, as sad as this day would be for America, the role of sport in this sort of situation would be to offer a diversion, a few hours of enjoyment. And that was next on Sunday's agenda.
For the next three hours and 14 minutes, the Yankees and the Angels played a closely contested, compelling game. In the larger scheme of human events, including terrorism and tragedy, no, this didn't really register. But as an event to remind you of the kind of thing that holds America together, an institution that has stood the test of time since the mid-19th century, this was no problem at all.
These had been two clubs heading in different directions in recent days. The Angels had come on with a rush, trying to catch the Texas Rangers in the American League West, winning six of the last seven games and holding the powerful Yankees offense to one run over the last two nights. From 4 1/2 games back, the Angels, after Saturday night's victory over New York, had closed to 1 1/2 games back of Texas.
The Yankees, meanwhile, were nicked up and operating at less than peak capacity. They had lost four straight. The only saving grace there was that their primary pursuers in the AL East, the Boston Red Sox, had done the same.
On Sunday, the directions changed with a 6-5 Yankees victory. With Boston's fifth straight loss, the Yankees' margin atop the division grew to 3 1/2 games.
The game turned for keeps in the seventh with runners on the corners, one out and the Yankees trailing, 5-4. Mark Teixeira hit what would have normally been a sacrifice fly to the warning track in right-center. Peter Bourjos, who has already established himself as a superior defensive center fielder, lost the ball in the sun at the last moment. The ball dropped off Bourjos' glove for an error, and both Yankees runners scored. With four innings of shutout relief from the quartet of Cory Wade, Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and, of course, Rivera, the Yankees returned to the win column.
By the afternoon's end, there was time to put the pregame ceremonies in perspective. The Yankees were suitably thankful for the way this was handled.
"The Angels did a tremendous job remembering," Girardi said. "It's a tough day for our country. A lot of people are sad."
There is only truth in that statement. The sadness will not evaporate, because the memories cannot be lost. But there can still be 42,581 people in Anaheim recalling a national tragedy and watching a baseball game on the same afternoon. This is not sacrilege; this is American life, and it persists and perseveres.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.