A Day To Remember

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Baseball and the events of September 11th, 2001 are inexorably bound by history. The only sport that was active in its regular season with games scheduled the day of the attacks, the entire sport was brought to a standstill for a full week. The charters set to carry Major League clubs around the country for the final month of the regular season were grounded by the FAA, and the nation sat shocked, confused, and perhaps not yet ready to watch baseball. But like all aspects of daily life, the game returned, and the delay in schedule led to more memorable moments in the sport’s history, like the creation of Mr. November – a nickname that could only have come about with the adjusted schedule – and the most exciting World Series of a generation.

The ribbon boards displayed long before the gates opened at Citi Field.

Tonight, for the first time ever, the Nationals and Mets – the home teams of the two cities most directly affected by the national tragedy – will meet on the yearly observance of the events, at Citi Field in Flushing. Nationals Manager Davey Johnson spent the morning at Ground Zero, along with other athletes and dignitaries, helping raise money for Homes for Heroes, whose mission is to aid the military, police, firefighters and other first responders. Fittingly, the Nationals will wear their Patriotic Blue jerseys for the first time ever away from Nationals Park.

With the Citi Field ribbon board adorned with a “We Remember” banner around the ballpark, there will no doubt be a solemn feel to the crowd. However, in the streets of New York today, you wouldn’t have known it was different than any other day. Aside from the television and radio reports, tourists shopped and dined, locals commuted to and from work, and life marched on. And tonight, just as we did 11 years ago, we will pick up the bats and the balls and the gloves, and there will be baseball played all around the land. For many of us, the simple fact that this will be a normal Tuesday, one that will end with another edition of America’s pastime playing out in front of us, brings the most comforting sense of victory of all.

* * *

Before we look forward to tonight, here are a couple quick notes from Monday night’s series-opening win over the Mets. The Nationals took advantage of an early mistake, as just two pitches after Kurt Suzuki’s foul pop was dropped behind home plate in foul ground by Kelly Shoppach, he drilled a solo home run over the left-field wall to give Washington a lead it would never relinquish. The Nats played solid defense, Gio Gonzalez was slightly wild but still very effective, and the offense chipped in two more early home runs in a 5-1 finish.

Ryan Zimmerman and the offense are off to a powerful start to September.

Such seemingly easy victories can make losses like Sunday’s 8-0 shutout at the hands of Ricky Nolasco all the more frustrating, but sometimes those things happen in baseball. Certain pitchers own certain teams, just as certain batters own certain pitchers – it’s simply a part of the game. And the fact that the Nationals came right back from that lackluster performance to bury Collin McHugh with three homers in the game’s first four innings should be as reassuring as anything that Sunday’s game was the exception, not the norm. After all, the Nationals have now hit 27 home runs through their first 10 games of September, a full 11 more than the next closest team in the National League (Milwaukee, 16). Nats fans can also take comfort in the knowledge that Washington will not face Nolasco and the Marlins again until the 2013 season.

Tonight, R.A. Dickey will look to match Gonzalez’s 19 victories, matching up against Jordan Zimmermann. In a Mets season whose promise has gone by the wayside since the All-Star Break, Dickey’s stunning success in 2012 has given the New York fans something to cheer for down the stretch. He and Gonzalez are two of the front-runners for the National League Cy Young award, which will add some extra intrigue to how well the knuckleballer fares against the Nationals tonight, after Gonzalez handcuffed the Mets hitters on Monday.

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