A generation — commonly referred to as the baby-boomer generation — and the generations that followed had been going to baseball games for many years and before each game the national anthem had been played. They would stand and listen, a few would join in singing, the TV folks would go into commercial, and the only words that would matter were the two words following the anthem — “Play Ball!”
That all changed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Baseball returned in five cities on September 17, and all teams were in action the following day. In Chicago on September 18, the White Sox hosted the Yankees and 22,785 spectators, including 4,539 who purchased their tickets at the gate, stood, long before they were asked to, in tribute to the Yankees, the iconic franchise so emblematic of New York. It was not a time for partisanship, and it was a place for healing.
“In the past, some of us have been self-conscious about the playing of the anthem at sporting events, wondering what connection could possibly be between games and patriotism. That connection became a little clearer Tuesday. The sports arena is the one place where we consistently gather in numbers. And so they sang the national anthem Tuesday, player and spectator alike. Sang it and meant it.” — Rick Morrissey, Chicago Tribune2
During the pregame festivities, the spectators cheered and chanted, “USA, USA!” when a group of Chicago firefighters and policemen took the field and stood on the infield spanning the 180-foot perimeter from first base to third base. The players from the Yankees and the White Sox joined them and stood along the baselines, completing the square around the infield. Blues entertainer Phyllis Arnold sang the national anthem to an audience that was anything but indifferent.
“You can’t ignore what is going on. You can try but you can’t ignore it. It is difficult, but it’s our job to go out and give the public some degree of happiness, because they have suffered so much the last few days.” — Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez4
Chicago’s Mark Buehrle and New York’s Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez (2-6) were the starting pitchers as the Yankees and White Sox played their first game since the attacks of September 11. Yankees manager Joe Torre had given the ball to Hernandez, who was the only Yankee to have spent the entire hiatus in New York. Hernandez, who had started the season with a 0-6 record, had injured his foot on May 25 and missed close to three months. He had won his two most recent starts.
The Yankees scored in their first at-bat, aided by sloppy play by the White Sox. Chuck Knoblauch opened the inning with a single and took second on a single by Derek Jeter. After Bernie Williams’s grounder forced Knoblauch at third, Tino Martinez singled in Jeter, who returned to an animated dugout. With runners on first and third with one out, New York’s Jorge Posada hit a hard grounder that was speared by Jose Valentin at third. Valentin’s throw to Ray Durham at second was on the mark, but Durham’s throw to first base went off Paul Konerko’s glove, allowing Williams to score and giving New York a 2-0 lead.
It was also the first game back after injury for the left side of the Yankee infield. Third baseman Scott Brosius had been out of action since August 1, when he was hit by a pitch and broke a bone in his left hand. Shortstop Jeter had not played since leaving the game on September 4 with a strained hamstring. Left fielder Knoblauch had left the Yankees’ last game, on September 9, with a rib-cage strain.
Hernandez walked leadoff batter Durham in the first inning but got out of trouble when the next batter, Valentin, hit into a double play. He pitched shutout ball and allowed only one hit in the first five innings. The Yankees tacked on a run in the fifth inning. Brosius singled and a double by Alfonso Soriano put two runners in scoring position. A grounder by Knoblauch scored Brosius with the Yankees’ third run and they led 3-0.
“It felt kind of weird in the beginning, but it felt really good to go out and play. People started responding, and I think we did give people a distraction.” — Bernie Williams5
The Yankees’ lead was still 3-0 as the game entered the bottom of the sixth inning. During the at-bat of the White Sox, it really began to feel like a ballgame, and the emotions shown by players and fans bore more of a semblance of normality. With one out and Mark Johnson on first, Durham banged the ball down the first-base line. It skipped over the bag and rolled toward the right-field corner. It was ruled foul by first-base umpire Mike Winters. An argument erupted between the umpire, Durham, and first-base coach Gary Pettis. Manager Jerry Manuel joined in the discussion before heading back to the dugout. When Pettis continued the argument, he was ejected by Winters.
Durham resumed his at-bat and struck out swinging on the next pitch. From the dugout, Durham pounded his bat and threw his helmet while shouting words toward umpire Winters. He, too, was ejected. Durham charged the field and was intercepted by teammate Valentin. The White Sox failed to score, and New York took a three-run lead into the next inning.
In the seventh inning, the Yankees broke the game open with three home runs. The first, with one out, came off the bat of Alfonso Soriano. With two out, a single by Jeter and a double by Williams chased Buehrle, and Alan Embree was brought into the game. A walk to Martinez loaded the bases, and Posada’s grand slam gave the Yankees an 8-0 lead. And to add to the punishment of Chicago pitching, Shane Spencer followed the grand slam with another homer on the next pitch.
After he completed his seventh scoreless inning, Hernandez sprinted toward the dugout, as was his custom, jumping at a familiar angle over the first-base line. His work was done, and his line showed that he had allowed only two hits (singles by Jose Canseco and Mark Johnson) and struck out five batters.
Josh Fogg pitched the eighth inning for the White Sox and allowed the final Yankee runs. Enrique Wilson, who had replaced Jeter at shortstop, doubled home Soriano and Knoblauch, who had singled. Wilson had seen his playing time increase significantly with the absence of Brosius and Jeter from the lineup.
Mike Stanton relieved Hernandez in the eighth inning. The White Sox avoided the shutout when they scored a pair of runs off Stanton. With one out, Royce Clayton and Mark Johnson singled and Stanton’s wild pitch moved the runners to second and third. With an 11-run lead, the Yankees infield was playing back and a grounder to third by Tony Graffanino scored the first run of the inning. Joe Crede then singled in Johnson.
The White Sox tacked on a meaningless run in their final at-bat. Mark Wohlers was in to pitch for New York and issued a one-out walk to Canseco. Jeff Liefer’s single moved Canseco into scoring position and Clayton’s line-drive single drove across the final tally.
The win went to Hernandez, bringing his record to 3-6. His ERA, which had stood at 6.00 on August 21, was down to 4.72. Buehrle’s loss brought his record to 13-8.
With the victory, the Yankees’ American League East lead over the second-place Red Sox was 13 games, and their magic number for clinching the division title was down to seven.
But on that night, not everyone was poised for those numbers. The numbers of lives lost on September 11 were still too fresh in everyone’s mind, and perhaps it was a bit ironic that the rain that had begun in the sixth inning had turned to a downpour when Mark Johnson swung and missed on the last pitch of the game — 2:57 after it began.
Lisa Olson wrote in the New York Daily News, “For the first time in eight horrific days, they had been talking baseball. Everything’s different, nothing’s the same … and still the game abides.”6
The Yankees for one night had turned frowns into smiles and that was good. But with the return of baseball came a realization that going to the ballpark would never quite be the same as it was before September 11, 2001.
In addition to Baseball-Reference.com and the sources shown in the Notes, the author used the following sources:
Gano, Rick (Associated Press). “Yankees Return to Playing National Pastime,” Post-Star (Glens Falls, New York) September 19, 2001: C1.
Olney, Buster. “Triumph and Cheers Greet Yanks in Return,” New York Times, September 19, 2001: D1.
Schaumburg, Jason. “Yanks Slam Angry White Sox,” Northwest Herald (Woodstock, Illinois), September 19, 2001: 6.
1 Mike Nadel, “Saddened Manuel Should Heed Optimist Torre,” Beacon News (Aurora, Illinois), September 19, 2001: C1.
2 Rick Morrissey, “Hope Shows Plenty of Life at Ballpark,” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2001: 4-1.
3 Paul Sullivan, “Emotional Reopener,” Chicago Tribune, September 19, 2001: 4-1.
4 Dominic Amore, “A Yankee Duque Dandy Return — Hernandez Goes 7 with Plenty of Help,” Hartford Courant, September 19, 2001: C1.
5 Anthony McCarron, “Emotional Yanks Back to Business: Roll Past White Sox Behind Duque, Posada,” New York Daily News, September 19, 2001: 97.
6 Lisa Olson, “Glad to Be Taken Out to the Ballgame,” New York Daily News, September 19, 2001: 97.