It seemed that all of America came to a standstill as the events unfolded in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania. The professional sports world took a time-out as people realized that there were more important things in life than the sports that can consume people's lives. MLB stopped all of their games for over a week in the middle of the pennant races. At the time, it was the right thing to do as the nation tried to piece itself back together.
The Twins were in Detroit on September 10th and they found themselves in second place and only six games out of first place. It would be the last year Tom Kelly would manage the team. It was also the first year the team would finish higher than fourth in the division since 1992. For eight days, the Twins waited to get on the field again and all of America waited for relief that might not appear.
The nation needed to get back to some semblance of a normal life and for many that meant the return of America's Pastime. The Twins took the field on September 18th for the first time since the tragic events of September 11th. There was a pre-game ceremony in the Metrodome where two hot air balloons were inflated. One bore the image of the American Flag and the other was black and white to honor prisoners of war and others still missing in action. Donnele Burlingame, the cousin of the pilot of the hijacked plane that crashed into the Pentagon, held an eagle at home plate during the pre-game ceremony.
Brad Radke was masterful for the Twins after the long layoff. In front of a small crowd of 10,878 fans, Radke took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and he had a perfect game through six innings. At the end of the night, he would finish with a 7.2 IP, 2 H, 2 ER. The Twins offense pounded out 18 hits including three hits from Corey Koskie and Luis Rivas. The team also got home runs from Koskie and Christian Guzman and three RBI from Torii Hunter. The final score was 8-3 and many of the players expressed their emotions after returning to the field:
"I was hoping he'd get [the no hitter]. It would've meant a lot with all that's been going on."- A.J. Pierzynski
Radke was not perfect during this game but in a way that was a fitting tribute to the heroes of September 11th. There was much that still needed to be accomplished at Ground Zero and a perfect game from Radke might have taken some of the light off of the things that were left to accomplish. The focus of the nation was on recovery from the events of that day and rebuilding the crumbling parts of our lives. Baseball offered fans a glimmer of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.
After being the team to watch in the first half of the season, the Twins struggled through some rough patches in the second half to finish in second place in the AL Central. On this night, it was not about playoff races, multi-million dollar contracts, or winning and losing. Baseball's return brought hope back to nation struggling to find it's identity. It brought groups of people together to celebrate something that is truly American and it allowed players and fans to pay homage to those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.