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amNY Year in Review: The 21 most memorable New York sports moments of 2021

NYCFC MLS Cup
Dec 11, 2021; Portland, OR, USA; New York City FC celebrates beating the Portland Timbers in the 2021 MLS Cup championship game at Providence Park.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Thankfully, we’ve made it through another trying year that has often given us plenty of reasons to feel down.

However, one of the great escapes of our society, sports, began returning back to normal — though there has been no shortage of challenges.

Here in New York, we were glued to our seats or our television sets once again hoping for the best while living with every single play of our favorite teams.

This year had no shortage of big-time moments, and we tried to do our best to pick out the most memorable 21 to see out 2021 in style:

AMNY’s 21 Memorable Sports Moments of 2021

Jan. 7: Mets acquire Francisco Lindor

Francisco Lindor Mets
Francisco LindorJasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Cohen’s first few months lacked the big splash in free agency as the Mets’ new owner showed more of a conservative hand. But that all changed early in 2021 when the Mets pulled off a blockbuster, acquiring Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco from the Cleveland Guardians for a package headlined by Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez. Lindor, an impending free agent, was later signed to a massive 10-year, $341 million extension to give Queens another marquee name to add to its improving ranks.

 

Jan. 14: Nets acquire James Harden

James Harden Nets
James Harden/Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets had been a team to watch after nabbing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but they became a championship favorite when they acquired six-time All-Star James Harden from the Houston Rockets in a massive three-team deal. The Nets sent Jarrett Allen and forward Taurean Prince to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and guard Caris LeVert and forward Rodions Kurucs, as well as three first-round draft picks (2022, 2024, and 2026) and four first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, and 2027) to Houston.

 

Jan. 14: Jets hire Robert Saleh

Robert Saleh Jets schedule
Jets head coach Robert Saleh/Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Finally moving out of Adam Gase’s shadow, the Jets brought on the charismatic defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers as head coach to try and turn things around — quickly introducing the phrase “All gas, no brakes.”

 

Apr. 29: Jets draft Zach Wilson

Just a few weeks after dealing away their last perceived franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, the Jets draft their next great hope in Zach Wilson out of BYU with the second overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. “When a team isn’t doing super well and you can go in there and actually be a key piece to where it flips that organization around, that’s so special,” Wilson said on draft night. “I’m so excited — me, along with this new coaching staff as well — to go in there and flip this thing around.” Wilson struggled in his rookie season and the Jets posted a losing season for the sixth consecutive year. 

 

May 5: Rangers clean house

Madison Square Garden Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports)

After a playoff-less 2020-21 season while getting bullied by the likes of the Islanders and Washington Capitals, Rangers owner James Dolan cleaned house by firing president John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton after head coach David Quinn was dismissed. Chris Drury was promoted, Gerard Gallant has come in behind the bench, and the Rangers are off to a hot start in 2021-22.

 

May 19: Corey Kluber’s no-no

Corey Kluber’s tenure with the Yankees was insignificant as injuries cut his lone season in the Bronx in half. But there will always be May 19 against the Texas Rangers when the 35-year-old threw the Yankees’ 11th-ever regular-season no-hitter in a 2-0 win while striking out nine batters. It was the Yankees’ first no-hitters since 1999 when David Cone blanked the Montreal Expos and the franchise’s first road no-no since Allie Reynolds shut down Cleveland in 1951.

 

May 23: Playoff basketball returns to Madison Square Garden

A surprising season sparked by the emergence of Julius Randle resulted in the Knicks making the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. As the No. 4 seed, they hosted Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Atlanta Hawks in a series they would ultimately lose in five games. 

 

Jun. 9: Islanders make a second-straight semifinal

Nelson Islanders Game 6 Bruins
Brock Nelson (29) celebrates his goal against the Bruins during the second period of Game 6 of the second round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nassau Coliseum./Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After disposing of the Pittsburgh Penguins and clinching their first playoff series victory at Nassau Coliseum since 1993, the Islanders were able to do it again against the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Division final. Brock Nelson scored two goals in a 6-2 Game 6 victory to set up a second-consecutive Stanley Cup semifinal meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 

Jun. 19: Ryan Pulock makes ‘The Save’

Trailing 2-games-to-1 in the Stanley Cup semifinal against the Lightning, and clinging onto a 3-2 lead in Game 4, Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock made one of the greatest saves in franchise history. With Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra skater, Tampa mounted one last push in an attempt to come back from a 3-0 hole going into the third period. As the Islanders tried to hold the puck for the final seconds of the game, it squirted out to an open Lightning defenseman in Ryan McDonagh. The former Ranger skated in, deked around a defenseman, got Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov to bite, and spun to send a backhander toward the open net where Pulock slid on his knees through the crease and batted it away with his gloves as the final buzzer sounded.

 

Jun. 19: Kevin Durant pushes Bucks to limit

With Kyrie Irving and James Harden dealing with injuries, Kevin Durant did his best Superman impression, averaging 35.4 points, 10.6 assists, and 5.4 points per game during the Nets’ Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Milwaukee Bucks. That included a massive 49-point performance in Game 5 to move Brooklyn within one game of a trip to the conference finals, but Milwaukee came back to force a Game 7, which the Nets would ultimately lose. It was through no fault of Durant’s, though, as he dropped 48 points in the 115-111 loss. The Bucks would go on to win the NBA title.

 

Jun. 23: Anthony Beauvillier blows roof off Nassau Coliseum

In what proved to be the final game ever played at Nassau Coliseum, Anthony Beauvillie provided one of the greatest goals the building has ever seen. Facing elimination in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinal against the Lightning, the Islanders overturned a 2-0 deficit to force overtime, setting the stage for Beauvillier’s heroics. The young Islanders winger picked off a pass in front of Tampa’s goal and ripped the game-winner just 1:08 into overtime to send the Coliseum into bedlam and prompting a shower of beer flowing from the seats. “That building coming into overtime was smelling like cigarettes and now it smells like beers,” Beauvillier said. “I honestly kind of blacked out a little bit.”

 

Jul. 12: Pete Alonso wins Home Run Derby again

The Mets’ slugger became the third player ever to defend his Home Run Derby crown after winning his first two years ago (2020 All-Star festivities were canceled due to the pandemic). In three rounds, he mashed 74 home runs to defeat Salvador Perez (35-28) and Juan Soto (16-15) before defeating Trey Mancini in the final (23-22). “I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet,” Alonso said. “Being able to showcase that and really put on a fun display for fans, it’s truly a dream come true for me. When I was younger, my parents actually let me stay up past my bedtime to watch this.”

 

Sept. 8: Jeter gets his day at the Hall

After his original enshrinement ceremony was postponed due to COVID-19, Yankees legend Derek Jeter finally was officially inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. “This is as high as you can go in terms of your playing career. There’s no other awards or accolades you can receive. From a career playing standpoint, man, I guess it does close the chapter.”

 

Sept. 11: Yankees, Mets’ Subway Series classic on 9/11 20th anniversary

On the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Yankees and Mets put together an instant classic for the city’s baseball rivalry. After emotional pregame ceremonies honoring the heroes and their families — and with the likes of Mike Piazza and Joe Torre on hand — the Mets overturned a 5-0 deficit to take a 6-5 lead. But Aaron Judge’s two homers and a costly Javier Baez error cleared the way for a thrilling 8-7 Yankees victory.

 

Sept. 12: Francisco Lindor’s 3-HR game vs. Yankees

He whistled toward the Yankees dugout to mock their inclusion in sign-stealing accusations and exchanged words when benches cleared a few innings later. But Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor made the most noise with his bat on Sept. 12, mashing three home runs — including the game-winner in the eighth inning — to defeat the Yankees. It was the first signature moment of Lindor’s disappointing start to his Mets career.

 

Sept. 24-26: Giancarlo Stanton dismantles Red Sox

With the Yankees fighting for their playoff lives, slugger Giancarlo Stanton put the team on his back in a vital series against the rival Boston Red Sox. He went 7-for-13 with three home runs and 10 RBI over those three games as the Yankees pulled off a huge sweep to help bolster their Wild Card status. Over the final three series of the regular season, all of which were against divisional opponents, Stanton slashed .324/.378/.765.

 

Oct. 13: Kyrie Irving’s vaccination conundrum

Kyrie Irving Nets
Kyrie Irving/Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Just before the start of the 2021-22 season, the Nets announced that Kyrie Irving would not participate in any capacity with the team. The star point guard has refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine, which would have barred him from playing at the Barclays Center, according to New York City mandates. But he could have played in road games and practiced with the team, which the Nets chose to forego. He is returning to the court shortly as he completes NBA health and safety protocols.

 

Nov. 20: UBS Arena opens

UBS Arena Opening Night
UBS Arena opened its doors to Islanders fans on Nov. 20Kevin Kane/KK Photo Images

After three decades of arena uncertainty, the Islanders’ new state-of-the-art home built just for them opened its doors. The 18,000-seat venue on the Queens/Nassau County border and next to Belmont Park guarantees the Islanders stay on Long Island rather than Brooklyn, where they spent a few unsuccessful seasons after temporarily moving away from the Nassau Coliseum. “We have a home now,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said. “We’ve talked about it leading up to it with what guys have gone through. Brooklyn, split seasons, closing out the Coliseum… it’s special to be home.”

 

Dec. 1: Mets’ spending spree ends with Max Scherzer

Max Scherzer Mets
Max Scherzer will join Jacob deGrom and the Mets in Queens.USA Today Sports/Illustration by Luis Matos

After getting the cold shoulder from Steven Matz and his agent, Mets owner Steve Cohen expresses his disappointment on Twitter before lighting Major League Baseball ablaze. With the help of new GM Billy Eppler, the Mets spend $254 million in four days by signing Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and Starling Marte before inking three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to a record-breaking three-year, $130 million contract.

 

Dec. 11: NYCFC wins MLS Cup

After trudging through an Eastern Conference gauntlet that included three wins on the road, NYCFC went into Portland and defeated the Timbers in dramatic fashion to win their first-ever MLS Cup. They squandered a late 1-0 lead by conceding the equalizer with the last kick of regulation but managed to win in a shootout thanks to two big saves from Sean Johnson, providing the city with its first major sports title since 2012.

 

Dec. 20: Mets hire Buck Showalter

Buck Showalter Mets
Buck Showalter and his wife, Angela, hold up his Mets uniform during his introductory press conference.Joe Pantorno/AMNY

After dismissing Luis Rojas — the latest inexperienced hire that couldn’t get it right — the Mets picked up the 20-year veteran skipper in Buck Showalter to manage the team. The 65-year-old has over 3,000 games of experience to his name and will be tasked with meeting the high expectations that have been laid upon the franchise in the Steve Cohen era.

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