Teams' focus elsewhere as O's fall, 5-4


NEW YORK - A year later, the Orioles and New York Yankees were a little more sure of themselves, a little more certain of their role in the post-9/11 world and saddened just the same.

Branford Marsalis played "Taps," the daughter of a World Trade Center victim threw out the ceremonial first pitch and four F-18 Hornets flew over Yankee Stadium last night during a 50-minute pre-game ceremony.

Then baseball took the stage and the teams delivered a tensely fought drama, with the Yankees winning, 5-4, on Nick Johnson's two-out, run-scoring single in the 11th inning.

Before the game, a crowd of 35,183 paid its respects as the Yankees unveiled their latest addition to Monument Park, a plaque dedicated to the victims and heroes of the terrorist attacks.

With the inscription "We Remember," the newest shrine took its place beside monuments honoring the likes of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Public address announcer Bob Sheppard said the team was "proud to dedicate this monument in the most historic place in all of sports."

Sports heroes gave way to real world heroes. A year later, this sport understood its place.

"It's just another baseball game," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, who was ejected in the ninth inning. "But it's not just another day."

Torre, like Orioles manager Mike Hargrove, spent much of the day watching the tributes on television. Hargrove said he felt "the very same feelings most everybody else around the country has, and a little bit honored that we're here to play this game."

The crowd was significantly smaller than the Yankees' season average of 44,064, a sign most New Yorkers felt there were better ways to spend this somber one-year anniversary. Those that came showed their patriotism, repeatedly chanting "USA, USA, USA."

That same crowd began chanting obscenities when plate umpire Angel Hernandez ejected Robin Ventura and Torre for arguing balls and strikes in the ninth.

The fans groaned when Orioles rookie John Stephens struck out Jorge Posada in the second inning, and they erupted in cheers when Ventura followed with a home run over the right field wall.

One inning later, Alfonso Soriano smashed a three-run homer to center field, and the Yankees looked like they would coast to another easy victory. But the Orioles, who now have lost 17 of their past 18 games, came back to tie the score with a four-run sixth, capped by Jay Gibbons' three-run homer off Yankees starter Orlando Hernandez.

It was a truly American affair. In a city in which the Statue of Liberty welcomes this country's immigrants, the pitching matchup featured the Australian-born Stephens against Cuban-born Hernandez.

But win or lose, players had bigger things on their mind.

"This is the first time I've been here [in New York] since that incident," said Orioles pitcher Pat Hentgen. "It sure puts things into perspective."

Major League Baseball suspended play for six days following the terrorist attacks, and even when the games resumed, players seemed to have a hard time getting back into rhythm.

"We were so violated and so stunned," Torre said. "A lot of emotions come through. After a year of thinking about this ... we're different. We appreciate things more. We're more vigilant. We're more understanding. We're more patient."

And they're not afraid.

Torre said he had no reservations about being at such a famous sporting venue, even after the nation heightened its security alert to "Code Orange" on Wednesday.

A gusty afternoon breeze left a chill in the air last night. It's almost fall, and the Yankees are getting ready for another postseason. For New Yorkers, this offers a sense of normalcy, something they experienced both before and after Sept. 11, 2001.

Some things, however, can never be the same.

"It seems like 10 days ago, or 10 minutes ago," Torre said of the morning the terrorists struck. "It's something that stays fresh. I know when I drive in Manhattan, and ride by that area, it's still an eerie feeling not having those two shadows. You really lose a sense of where you are."

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