September 9, 2011 - 10:21 AM
Ten years ago tonight -- Sept. 9, 2001 -- the Buffalo Bisons played their last game before the world changed forever. And what a doozy it was.
The Eric Wedge-led Bisons lost, 6-2, to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in 19 innings in the decisive Game Five of the Governors Cup semifinals at then-Dunn Tire Park. It still stands as the longest game in both innings and time (5:13) in the ballpark's history.
A two-run triple in the top of the 19th by No. 9 hitter Jason Knupfer, who was 0 for 16 in the series to that point, snapped a 2-2 tie. Scranton went on to add two insurance runs to wrap up the best-of-five series, three games to two. The Buffalo offense struggled because cleanup man Chris Coste, who had a series-high eight hits, didn't play the last 15 innings after getting ejected arguing a call at first base in the fourth.
Scranton advanced to meet Louisville in the IL finals and lost Game One, 2-1, the next night at Slugger Field. That was September 10. The next morning was September 11.
Game Two was canceled due to the terrorist attacks and the entire series was called off the next day, with Louisville declared the winner. I've often pondered the 19-inning game because I would have been in Louisville on 9/11 had the Bisons won. All air traffic was grounded, of course, and I would have driven home from Kentucky. (I know some New York reporters who drove all the way home from Denver after the Giants' Monday Night Football game on Sept. 10).
"I talked to a lot of fans the day after we lost and you thought losing a 19-inning baseball game was devastating," Bisons GM Mike Buczkowski told me the day the IL canceled the series. "Then you get jolted to reality. Baseball games aren't significant given what's going on right now."
The Bisons made the finals the next year and hosted an emotional pregame ceremony prior to Game Two against Durham on Sept. 11, 2002, the one-year anniversary. Coste recalled starting the drive home to North Dakota the day after the 19-inning loss and stopping for the night in Toledo, Ohio, then watching events of 9/11 from his hotel room.
""We woke up in the morning and all that happened,'' Coste said. ""I thought about a million things and baseball was obviously way in the background but you wondered if they were going to finish the season. As the days went on, you started thinking, "I wonder what it would have been like if we had been stuck in Louisville.'''
When the calendar flipped to October, I was fortunate enough to cover the Yankees' emotional ALCS win over Seattle and the incredible '01 World Series against Arizona. And I got a first-hand look, even several weeks later, at the shocking aftermath at Ground Zero.
Be sure to read about my reflections on baseball in New York and elsewhere in the wake of 9/11 in Sunday's Inside Baseball column.