Mets pull within 4˝ on emotional night


NEW YORK (AP) -- Mike Piazza gave all of New York a home run from
the heart.

Fri, Sept. 21

It's just kept going. & Soaring off into the New York night. A baseball carrying an entire city's emotional baggage.

There's no telling how far Mike Piazza's eighth-inning game-winning home run against the Braves at Shea Stadium flew on Friday ... because how do you measure the healing power of a swing.

More than 400 feet? How do you quantify what sport truly means to a society.

For whatever period of time -- the instant when bat met ball, the duration of the ball's flight or the entire frenzied celebration as the ball landed beyond the fence and Piazza glided around the bases -- the 41,325 fans in attendance and the millions of other New Yorkers who saw it on TV could forget.

Forget the fear, the pain, the suffering, the death, the destruction.

A moment, maybe a fraction of a second, maybe a full minute, of pure, mindless joy.

Joy has been a precious commodity since those planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11.

Of Piazza's 34 home runs this season, 12 have given the Mets a lead, but this one did significantly more than that. This one put a whole city, maybe a nation, ahead.

Oh, and he did it for free, donating his $68,000 paycheck from the game to the relief effort.

How nice to have Piazza & and that baseball & something flying through the air ... and rooting for it.

Choked up by a pregame tribute to the victims of the World Trade
Center collapse, Piazza hit a two-run homer in the eighth inning
that lifted the Mets over the Atlanta Braves 3-2 Friday night and
further tightened the NL East race.

"I'm just so happy I gave the people something to cheer,"
Piazza said. "There was a lot of emotion. It was just a surreal
sort of energy out there. I'm just so proud to be a part of it

"These people are great," he said. "New York has been so
strong through all this. I feel so sad. I met two kids today who
lost their fathers."

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Liza Minnelli and Diana Ross took part
in the ceremonies as baseball returned to the city for the first
time since last week's terrorist attacks. A crowd of 41,235
included almost 10,000 walkup fans.

Piazza had already doubled twice when he hit his 34th home run,
a monstrous drive over the center-field fence off native New Yorker
Steve Karsay (3-4).

"I'm glad to give people a diversion from the sorrow, to give
them a thrill," Piazza said.

The surging Mets, playing at Shea Stadium for the first time
since Sept. 2, have won four in a row and 10 of 11. The defending
NL champions pulled within 4 1/2 games of the first-place Braves.

"If the season ends tomorrow, we're all winners, because we
didn't give up," Piazza said.

Philadelphia, which beat Florida 1-0, closed within a half-game
of Atlanta.

Feelings were running high on and off the field.

Karsay, still upset about a close, 3-2 pitch to Edgardo Alfonzo
that resulted in a one-out walk before Piazza, was ejected when the
inning. He charged plate umpire Wally Bell, and was restrained by

"I'm a guy who never argues about balls and strikes," Karsay
said. "I've never been thrown out of a game before. But when
you're in a pennant race, things get hot."

Said Bell: "I told him the pitch was high. I saw come running,
but they held him back."

Armando Benitez (6-3) got the win despite giving up Brian
Jordan's go-ahead double in the eighth.

Up until Piazza's homer, the Braves had played it perfectly.
They hugged the Mets in the pregame tribute, cheered Giuliani and
applauded Minnelli when she came on the field to sing "New York,
New York" during the seventh-inning stretch.

"It was a great night," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "We
were lucky to be here tonight for this, but I wanted to be on the
winning side."

The Mets did it right, too. Their players, coaches and manager
Bobby Valentine donated a day's pay -- about $450,000 -- to the
families of the police officers and firefighters killed during the
terrorist attacks.

The Mets also had the date of the tragedy -- 9-11-01 --
embroidered on the left sleeve of their uniforms.

"You couldn't have scripted it any better," said outfielder
Jay Payton, who got a hug from Minnelli.

Before Piazza homered, the biggest ovation of the night went to
Giuliani -- in a ballpark where the noted Yankees' rooter is
routinely booed during interleague games.

Wearing an "FDNY" pullover shirt and a cap with the police
department shield, he was cheered by Mets and Braves alike.
Giuliani stepped down into Atlanta dugout and got a vigorous pat on
the back from Cox.

Valentine raised his arms and led cheers of "Rudy! Rudy!"

Piazza scored in the fourth on Tsuyoshi Shinjo's sacrifice fly.
Braves third baseman Ken Caminiti made a sensational play to
prevent any more runs from scoring.

With runners on second and third and two outs, Caminiti
backhanded Payton's grounder and made a strong, off-balance throw
from foul territory to end the inning.

The Braves' only run off Bruce Chen came in the fourth and was
unearned. Caminiti doubled with two outs and Chipper Jones scored
from first base when Piazza let second baseman Edgardo Alfonzo's
easy, one-hop throw home skip by for an error.

Game notes
The umpires, along with the Mets, wore caps representing
the city's police, fire and emergency personnel during the game.
B.J. Surhoff and other Braves from the local area wore them in
warmups. ... Chen's only other game against his former team was a
disaster. Atlanta tagged him for seven runs in two innings on July
5, and Philadelphia sent him to the minors the next day. ... The
Mets are two games over .500 for the first time this season. ...
After the first pitch, Bell took the ball out of play. He later
gave it to Giuliani, asking the mayor to give it to someone
special. The mayor said he would "give it to one of the children
who has lost their father."