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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees and Mets show camaraderie, then fierce competition

Mets and Yankees players intermingle during a 9/11

Mets and Yankees players intermingle during a 9/11 remembrance ceremony on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks before an MLB game at Citi Field on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Mets and Yankees began Saturday night at Citi Field lined up along the baselines for the national anthem, but on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, they weren’t on opposite sides.

Nope. The two opponents were mixed together, shoulder to shoulder, with two former Cubs, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez, even hugging it out like a pair of brothers now in rival New York colors who missed each other.

"Obviously, we’re wearing different uniforms and in different dugouts and competing against each other," Brett Gardner said. "But at the end of the day, we’re all kind of on the same team."

That was the dominant emotion early Saturday night, capturing the spirit of a city that’s still recovering from 9/11 two decades later. The Mets and Yankees also shared another bond on this special evening: an urgency to win that was on display from the opening pitch.

Ultimately, the Yankees prevailed, 8-7, to snap their seven-game losing streak, a disconcerting plunge that had threatened to torpedo their fragile playoff position. But not before blowing a five-run lead, going 0-for-16 during the middle five innings, then rallying for three runs in the eighth on Aaron Judge’s second homer and Baez’s throwing error on a potential double-play ball.

"The guys are competing and they know that’s what it’s about right now," Aaron Boone said. "We’re getting down toward the final few weeks of the season and you’ve got to bring it every day, every inning, every at-bat. Give nothing away. Nothing’s been easy for us all year, so we’re used to it."

The Mets can say the same. Both teams have been living on the edge for months, and the intense emotions of Saturday’s 9/11 remembrance couldn’t help but trigger a wildly entertaining game. This was as frenetic and crazy and nerve-wracking as it sounds — along with two idiot fans bolting onto the field in separate incidents — and the Mets twice thought they were going to come out on top.

In the sixth inning, they got a go-ahead two-run homer from their catcher (sound familiar?) as James McCann woke up the echoes from Mike Piazza’s historic blast two decades earlier — with the Hall of Fame catcher in the building Saturday night.

Who didn’t believe that would be the unbelievable moment that an event like the 9/11 Subway Series deserved?

"The thing that kept getting me was the number of U-S-A chants that you heard," McCann said. "That was pretty special. Just talking about it gives me chills."

But McCann’s contribution, no matter how perfect the symbolism, didn’t fit the script this time around. The Mets got another chance in the eighth when Pete Alonso came up with two on and two outs, but his drive to centerfield — reminiscent of Piazza’s flyout to end the 2000 World Series —died at the warning track.

The Mets had been riding an adrenaline surge after wiping out their early 5-0 deficit, built when Kyle Higashioka, Gardner and Judge went deep off Taijuan Walker in the second inning. But when the Yankees’ bats went quiet immediately after that and McCann put the Mets in front, it seemed as if the curtain was closing on Boone & Co. again.

Yet it didn’t happen. Gardner ended the 0-for-16 skid with a leadoff single in the eighth, Judge followed with the tying homer off Trevor May — the Mets reliever who mocked Yankee Stadium’s short porch dimensions earlier in the week — and Baez flung a potential inning-ending double-play relay over first base, allowing Andrew Velazquez, the son of a Bronx police detective, to score the eventual winning run.

"The last couple of weeks, we’ve got beaten up pretty bad," Gardner said. "But there’s not any time to sit around and hang your head and feel sorry for yourself, so I thought our guys did a good job of coming out and responding."

It took until the late innings, but drawing inspiration probably wasn’t too hard Saturday night, not while wearing the caps of New York’s first responders, surrounded by police and firefighters among the sellout crowd of 43,144.

The night before, the Yankees had a clubhouse meeting to discuss their dire situation after getting throttled by the Mets. But how could talking about their own troubles possibly be more impactful than taking the stage Saturday on a night dedicated to the memory of 9/11, starting with two rivals standing together?

"That was a big moment for the city and the fans," Judge said, "just to show everybody that we’re all in this together no matter what."

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