Lilly reaches milestone in Jays' win
On fifth anniversary of 9/11, ex-Yankee wins career-high 13th
SEATTLE -- Ted Lilly will always remember that day. When the Toronto pitcher answered his phone on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was greeted by a sobbing woman -- a close friend of Lilly's wife -- who tried to piece together words about what was happening only a couple of miles away.
At the time, Lilly was a member of the Yankees. But when terrorist attacks reduced the Twin Towers to a pile of ash and debris that day, he was simply a citizen of New York -- one of the millions who were trying to comprehend the incomprensible.
"Without question, it's a day I'll never forget," said Lilly, who helped lead Toronto to a 6-2 win over Seattle on Monday -- the fifth anniversary of the attacks. "It probably sticks out more than any day in my life."
The memories came flooding back to Lilly on Sunday night, when he stumbled across a documentary on 9/11 on television. What the pitcher saw on the screen was himself, attending to victims at a rescue staging area at the Armory in New York -- just five days after the World Trade Center fell.
"I was watching a special on Sept. 11 and it brought back some very strange and uncomfortable feelings," Lilly said quietly. "I can remember how sad and upset I was."
When Lilly saw the faces of the families directly affected by the tragedy, he couldn't help but feel that he was the last person those New Yorkers wanted to see. Even so, Lilly joined Yankees manager Joe Torre and his teammates in doing what they could to help comfort as many people as possible.
"I remember going around and praying with some people," Lilly said. "It was uncomfortable because, in a way, I felt like the people there wanted to see their loved ones more than they wanted to see the Yankees.
"I also think it was important for us to go down there and show that we felt for them. It affected so many people. It was a very strange feeling seeing that on TV last night."
Images from that horrific day consumed Lilly again when he arrived at Safeco Field for his start on Monday. Prior to the game -- his first time pitching on Sept. 11 since the attacks -- the pitcher stood on the third-base line with his Toronto teammates, listening as a group of Seattle firefighters performed "Amazing Grace" on bagpipes.
The words "We Shall Not Forget" flashed across one of the scoreboards and, by the time Lilly was called upon to take the mound against the Mariners, the game had taken on a new level of importance for the left-hander.
"Today was a little bit different than any other start," Lilly said. "I definitely thought about it a lot today."
Once it came time to pitch, though, Lilly had to shift his focus. Thoughts of 9/11 were foremost on his mind, but defeating the Mariners was the task at hand.
Lilly (13-12) did exactly that. The left-hander turned in seven solid innings, striking out five and allowing just four hits en route to his 13th win of the season. That established a new career high for Lilly, who won 12 with Oakland in 2003, and again with Toronto in '04.
The Blue Jays helped Lilly to his 16th quality start of the season by breaking through for five early runs against Mariners starter Jake Woods (4-3). Toronto scored two in the opening frame, when Vernon Wells and Bengie Molina contributed run-scoring hits. Then in the fourth, the Jays tacked on three more -- highlighted by RBI singles from Adam Lind and Reed Johnson.
"He's been as steady as anybody this year," Toronto manager John Gibbons said of Lilly. "We haven't been scoring a whole lot of runs lately, but we gave him some early. That gave him a little breathing room, but it was one of those nights when he might not have needed that anyway."
It was a night when Lilly was fueled by his memories -- thoughts about that morning in Midtown, where he picked up his phone and learned of the attacks.
Lilly will never forget.
"She told us what happened and was crying on the phone, scared," Lilly said. "It's a day when you look back, you feel for so many innocent people.
"It put perspective on life."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.