NEW YORK -- For four or five seconds late on Saturday evening, Citi Field held its collective breath. With two men on base in a one-run game, Pete Alonso had hit a potentially iconic fly ball to center field, where it carried far enough and long enough for tens of thousands among a sold-out crowd to hope. Twenty years after 9/11, the Mets were in search of a new generation’s Mike Piazza moment. Alonso, one of the current team’s stewards of history, seemed just the man to provide it.
But the Mets would see no repetition of history. Three hundred and ninety-one feet from home, on the lip of the warning track, the ball dropped harmlessly into Yankees center fielder Brett Gardner’s glove. Less than an hour later, the Mets had lost an 8-7 game to end an emotional night in Queens.
When asked whether he thought Alonso’s ball would land over the fence, catcher James McCann replied: “I think our whole dugout did.”
“This field plays big,” McCann continued. “For me, there’s never really a no-doubter, to be honest with you. The way the wind swirls in the stadium, there’s not really any flags that you can trust, so you don’t really know how the ball’s going to carry until it’s out there. Off the bat, I definitely wasn’t the only one that thought he got it.”
Citi Field, of course, had been waiting for the type of hit that could allow the 43,144 packed into the stadium -- its largest crowd in 25 months -- to erupt. An emotional pregame ceremony featuring Piazza and more than a dozen other members of the 2001 team had drained many in attendance. The Mets spent time mingling with their rivals on the field, understanding the significance of the day despite many of them being elementary school children on Sept. 11, 2001. They knew what this day meant to their city and their fan base. They wanted to give them a victory.
McCann did his part, hitting a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth to evoke his famous predecessor. But reliever Trevor May cracked for Aaron Judge’s game-tying, two-run homer in the eighth, then he watched as second baseman Javier Báez committed a run-scoring throwing error to give the Yankees the lead for good.
“With everything that’s going on and the night that it was, it’s not the night that you want to not be on your best stuff,” May said. “You want to give the fans what they came to see. I know there’s a lot of extra stuff attached to this baseball game, being a Met. … I can definitely feel how this loss can be a little bit more emotionally charged than others. Trust me, I’m feeling that, too. All I want to do is flip this table over. I’m frustrated to a point where that’s all I got.”
For everyone, the circumstances surrounding the night were plain to see. Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker called it a “playoff-type atmosphere,” while McCann said that the stream of “U-S-A” chants continually gave him chills. That was what left May and others so frustrated, particularly after McCann’s homer.
“It was a special night,” Walker said. “It was a good baseball game for the fans and everyone in New York. We just couldn’t finish it off.”
May took the loss, while Báez and Francisco Lindor -- who couldn’t field a Gleyber Torres infield single cleanly moments before the game-deciding play in the eighth -- absorbed the brunt of the blame. But the Mets still had a chance to put their stamp on the evening when Alonso came to bat with two men on base and two outs in the eighth -- a similar situation to what Piazza faced on Sept. 21, 2001, in the first game in New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
For a brief second, McCann said he and his teammates thought history might be repeating itself. Then reality set in as Alonso’s ball died at the track, leaving them shaking their heads.
“Man,” manager Luis Rojas said after the game, “that would have been just special if it would have gone out of the yard.”