The Washington Post Sunday

Nationals fall on somber day



pittsburgh — An American flag whipped in the wind at half-staff Saturday at PNC Park. It was one of the unmistakab­le indication­s the baseball game between the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates on the 20-year anniversar­y of the 9/11 terrorist attacks carried far more significan­ce than a mere sporting event.

In that regard, Major League Baseball scheduled this series intentiona­lly for this day of remembranc­e of those killed when hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in Shanksvill­e, Pa., roughly 80 miles from Pittsburgh.

Pregame ceremonies before the Nationals lost, 10-7, included recognizin­g the families of passengers on United Flight 93 that went down in Shanksvill­e. Relatives gathered on the infield during a poignant rendition of the national anthem as first responders and their families unfurled a flag that covered the outfield.

“This is not just a Washington or New York thing,” Pirates Manager Derek Shelton said before the game. “As we know being in Pennsylvan­ia, it hits very close to home.”

Players from both clubs, many of whom were in elementary school when the attacks took place, stood at the top of their respective dugouts to watch the proceeding­s. Then they walked onto the field to greet each family member who lost a loved one on United Flight 93.

At the top of the visitors’ dugout with players flanked behind him stood Manager Dave Martinez, still on crutches from a recent ankle procedure and back with the Nationals (58-84) after serving a one-game suspension Friday night.

He witnessed a third straight wobbly start from Josiah Gray, who allowed five runs and walked six in five innings, and the bullpen unraveled again in a third consecutiv­e loss. The Pirates (52-90) went ahead for good during a four-run sixth that included second baseman Luis García’s error allowing two runs to score.

“It’s definitely a special day,” Gray said. “I was 3 years old, so I don’t really remember 9/11 the day actually, but obviously it’s affected tons and tons of people. My thoughts and prayers go out to every family that’s been affected or has some sort of sentiment toward that day.”

The game’s outcome felt almost incidental given the gravity of the day, especially for Martinez, whose perspectiv­e surroundin­g the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and what unfolded in the immediate aftermath of the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives remains highly personal and emotional.

At the time, Martinez was a member of the Atlanta Braves in what would be his final season as a player in the majors. Then 36, he was a reserve on a club in the middle of a pennant race when, after dropping his children off at school on a day off, he turned on his car radio and began processing the news that a plane had flown into the North Tower.

When he arrived back at his home, he flipped on the television just as another plane crashed into the South Tower. The chilling images shook Martinez to the core as a native New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and raised in Manhattan.

“That’s when I realized, ‘Something really bad is going on,’ ” Martinez said.

Ten days after the attacks, the Braves traveled to play the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in the first profession­al sporting event in the city after 9/11. Martinez was playing first base in the bottom of the eighth inning when Mike Piazza blasted one of the most memorable home runs of his Hall of Fame career.

When the ball left Piazza’s bat, Martinez quietly hoped that it would sail over the fence. It was the rare occasion where a profession­al athlete pushed winning to the periphery. Healing instead had become the priority.

“I was part of that first game back in New York, the place where I grew up, and it was tough,” Martinez said. “We had all these T-shirts made with ‘United We Stand.’ We’re going to get through this together, and we’re going to stay strong. That’s the thing I remember most about that game. Everybody was pulling for everybody.”

Martinez spent Saturday afternoon before heading to PNC Park watching coverage of the ceremonies in New York, the Pentagon and Shanksvill­e, where a memorial commemorat­ing the heroism of passengers on Flight 93 was establishe­d Sept. 24, 2002.

He reflected on managing a team that plays its home games a short drive from the Pentagon. One-hundred and eighty four perished, both in the building when it was struck and on American Airlines Flight 77, during that part of the attacks.

A memorial honoring the Pentagon victims opened Sept. 11, 2008. Players see it every time they drive to Nationals Park.

“What I think about is all the family members that are still with us,” Martinez said, his voice cracking. “I want to say my deepest sympathy to all family members who lost lives. They’ve got to continue to stay strong and stay in the fight. One thing I’ve learned about those people is that they don’t want us to give up.”

 ?? PHOTOS BY JUSTIN BERL/GETTY IMAGES ?? The families of passengers on United Flight 93 were recognized on the field in a pregame ceremony.
PHOTOS BY JUSTIN BERL/GETTY IMAGES The families of passengers on United Flight 93 were recognized on the field in a pregame ceremony.
 ??  ?? Andrés Machado cannot field a ball off the bat of Colin Moran in the sixth inning of the Pirates’ victory over the Nationals.
Andrés Machado cannot field a ball off the bat of Colin Moran in the sixth inning of the Pirates’ victory over the Nationals.

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