In the bottom of the eighth, with the game on the line, the face of the franchise stepped to the plate with a chance to put the Mets ahead near the end of an emotional night at the ballpark — and connected on a drive to deep centerfield.
But that is where the similarities between Mike Piazza’s magical moment 20 years ago and Pete Alonso’s bid to recreate it Saturday night ended. Alonso’s fly ball was caught on the warning track, leaving two runners on base — and the Yankees held on to beat the Mets, 8-7.
Some of the Mets and some of the 43,144 fans in attendance — a sellout crowd and the largest at Citi Field in more than two years — thought it was gone.
"I did," said James McCann, who had an RBI triple and go-ahead two-run homer in this instant classic. "Off the bat, I definitely wasn’t the only one who thought he got it."
Added manager Luis Rojas, who was skeptical because of the angle at which Alonso hit the ball: "I got a little excited right off the bat . . . It’s the right spot for Pete to come through. Just warning track. But man, that would’ve been just special."
That kind of storybook ending eluded the Mets on a night when they and the Yankees held a touching half-hour Sept. 11 remembrance ceremony before the game, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks — the healing from which the 2001 teams played a role in a sports-as-special-salve kind of way.
For the Mets, a big piece was Piazza’s go-ahead two-run homer on Sept. 21, the first game in New York City after the tragedy. He connected against Atlanta’s Steve Karsay for one of the most famous home runs in the history of baseball.
"It’ll always be with me," Piazza said Saturday afternoon. "And it’ll be on my Hall of Fame plaque even when I’m gone."
The Mets, who are 71-72 and five games back in the NL East, had another chance in the ninth after J.D. Davis’ double. But McCann flied out to end the game and strand Davis on third.
Each of the Mets’ past eight losses have been by one run. This was their 13th one-run loss in 27 games.
The difference was the Yankees’ three-run rally against Trevor May and Aaron Loup in the eighth.
May inherited a two-run lead but gave up hits to all three of his batters, including Aaron Judge, who hit a tying two-run homer.
McCann blamed May’s ineffectiveness on command issues. Rojas said it was a pitch selection problem. May, calling it his "worst [outing] all year," was just angry that it happened.
"I know there’s a lot of extra stuff attached to this baseball game," he said. "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."
Loup induced consecutive hard-hit grounders to shortstop Francisco Lindor. Gleyber Torres’ became a single when Lindor didn’t field it cleanly. Luke Voit’s became a forceout at second, but Javier Baez’s throw to first on the potential inning-ending double-play ball was well over Alonso’s head. Andrew Velazquez scampered home with what proved to be the winning run.
The Mets trailed by five runs early because Taijuan Walker allowed second-inning homers by Kyle Higashioka, Brett Gardner and Judge, but he settled down to retire his next 13 batters, seven via strikeout, to finish his night at six innings, five runs.
Jonathan Villar thought Walker might’ve been tipping his pitches. "It seemed like we fixed it, whatever it was," Walker said.
Meanwhile, the Mets chipped away against Corey Kluber (four innings, four runs) and the Yankees’ bullpen. They took the lead on McCann’s homer against Chad Green in the sixth.
Chants of "U-S-A" were common all night, though the crowd’s loyalties were split between the teams. When Judge made a diving catch of Baez’s line drive in the ninth, the cheers were considerable.
"The thing that kept getting me was the number of U-S-A chants that you hear," McCann said. "That was pretty special. Just talking about it gives me chills. Every time there was a U-S-A chant, it gave me chills on the field.
Just a special moment to see a stadium full of people who are rooting for opposite teams, cheering for the same thing. It’s definitely something that we could use more of in today’s day and age."
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