Yankees, Bonds, Ripken get back to baseball

Wednesday, September 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Joe Torre's mind kept wandering. Until Chuck Knoblauch, Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees started hitting, that is.

As he watched the pregame ceremonies at Comiskey Park, ``I'm thinking a week ago, and all the senseless things that happened,'' the Yankees manager said.

``It was pretty emotional. But once we got going, it was back to baseball.''

In the Yankees' first game since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, they beat the Chicago White Sox 11-3.

A day after baseball returned from a six-day break with a patriotic flourish, major leaguers tried to put the focus on the field. The crowd of about 23,000 in Chicago _ par for the White Sox _ cheered when the players with ``New York'' across their uniforms lined up.

Boston's Fenway Park was close to capacity, as always, and it was the same at Cleveland's Jacobs Field, where almost 35,000 fans showed up. For the most part, crowds were between 20,000 and 30,000, about average for this time of year.

In Toronto, Blue Jays manager Buck Martinez said an early home run by Alex Gonzalez helped break the somber mood at SkyDome.

``It was a real spooky first inning,'' Martinez said. ``I don't think anybody felt like they had a right to holler on the bench, but then Alex hit the home run and guys started to get into it.''

San Francisco's Barry Bonds resumed his chase to break Mark McGwire's home run record before a sellout crowd at Pacific Bell Park. Bonds was hitless in a 3-2 loss to Houston, and needs eight home runs in 17 games to top Big Mac's mark of 70.

More than a dozen teams picked up pennant races. A sellout crowd at Safeco Field saw the Seattle Mariners clinch a tie for the AL West title.

``We have some unfinished business to take care of,'' Seattle's Jay Buhner said before a 4-0 win over Anaheim. ``It will be tough to have the same frame of mind we had before, but we still have a chance to do something pretty special.''

Every team was in action following six games Monday night, and there were reminders everywhere of the tragedies in New York and Washington.

Perhaps the most compelling image came at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, where the Mets took the field wearing caps honoring New York's fire, police and emergency personnel. On Monday night, the Mets wore them for pregame ceremonies _ on Tuesday night, they got permission from major league baseball to wear them the whole game.

Mets general manager Steve Phillips said a fan wrote him a letter suggesting the Mets wear the caps.

Mike Piazza, with ``NYPD'' on his batting helmet, hit a key home run that lifted the Mets over the Pirates 7-5.

``I feel there's nothing really we can do to repay them,'' he said of the rescue workers. ``It's just a way to say we're thinking of them. It's our salute. We really don't deserve to wear them.''

Cal Ripken, one of the sport's best ambassadors, said he'd do his best to entertain fans.

``Certainly, I'm not so gung-ho inside about baseball,'' said the Baltimore star, who homered in an 8-5 loss at Toronto.

``When I think of baseball in the context of what's going on it does seem very insignificant,'' he said. ``I haven't gotten really motivated to play at this point, but we all should take great pride that we can be a small distraction, a small opportunity to smile and get away from what's going on.''

At Jacobs Field, members of Cleveland's fire, police and emergency response departments threw opening pitches to catcher Eddie Taubensee, who wore a firefighter's helmet.

In a message shown on the scoreboard, Travis Fryman thanked Indians fans for their support and asked them to pray for the attack victims. Fryman then hit a grand slam in an 11-2 win over Kansas City.

Boston catcher Scott Hatteberg hoped the games would provide some relief.

``This is going to be helpful for a lot of people. Everybody needs a break. I know I need a break,'' he said before the Red Sox played Tampa Bay.

``Baseball, as goofy as it sounds, is going to be part of the healing process. By doing this, I think we're helping out.''

Fans seemed to have no complaints about the increased security at stadiums.

It took Ken Torgerson of Thackerville, Okla., a few extra moments to get into The Ballpark in Arlington as guards looked through his grocery sack filled with cantaloupes and grapes.

Torgerson didn't seem to mind the wait to see the Texas Rangers play Oakland.

``I think it's great,'' he said.