The Stroke At Midnight -- Buhner's Cycle A First For M's, Sinks A's
As Jay Buhner crossed the plate at nearly midnight with the winning run, his weary Seattle Mariner teammates rushed onto the field to greet him.
Everyone was giving out high-fives except Ken Griffey Jr. He was busy trying to steal third base.
As Buhner entered the clubhouse after the 8-7 Mariner victory, Junior presented Buhner with the bag, symbolizing Buhner's achievement of hitting for the cycle for the first time in Mariner history.
"There are more no-hitters than cycles," Griffey said of hitting a single, double, triple and home run in the same game. "I was glad for Jay. It's the first time in history and it's something he can treasure for the rest of his life.
"He's a part of this team and he's a part of me. To see him get it, is almost like me getting it."
Buhner hit a grand slam in the first inning, a double in the third, a single in the fifth, then waited until the 14th inning to leg out a triple off the right-center-field wall. The ball bounced away from Lance Blankenship, allowing Buhner to reach third.
His feat came in the 17-year-old franchise's 2,609th game and very nearly its longest.
Buhner scored moments later on a Shawn Hillegas' wild pitch for a 4-hour, 37-minute victory over Oakland. It was only Seattle's third victory in 19 games against the Athletics, who finished the four-game series here today.
"Junior and I have a lot of mutual respect and a friendship that keeps growing every year," said Buhner, who appreciated the third-base gift. "We feed off each other's energy when we have big games.
"We have our little battles going. When he does something good, then I'll do something, then he'll do something else. It's a lot of fun together."
But, unfortunately for Buhner, that close association with one of the game's most celebrated players does not extend much beyond the city limits.
Outside Seattle, there is a perception that Griffey roams the entire Mariner outfield. It's Whats-his-name in right.
Both Griffey and Buhner have similar All-Star-caliber numbers this season. Griffey, who hit his fourth home run in four games, will play in his fourth straight All-Star Game on July 13 in Baltimore. Buhner likely will go fishing unless American League Manager Cito Gaston picks him as a reserve.
"He's deserving to be on the All-Star team," Mariner Manager Lou Piniella said of Buhner. "He's got the average, the power, the runs."
Griffey leads the AL All-Star voting with 675,470 votes. Buhner didn't even make the top 16. He has fewer than 70,000 votes.
"They may not know him among the voters," Piniella said, "but don't find that's true with baseball people."
Buhner can put last night's game in his portfolio to support his All-Star selection. He not only hammered his fourth career grand slam, but he finished it off with his 11th career triple in a difficult park to hit one.
"I didn't realize I had it until I reached third," he said. "It's a big thing for me, especially in this park. I'm not exactly Mr. Fleet of Foot."
Buhner said he had been close to cycles previously but never has achieved one, not even in Little League.
"I don't know, I guess it's like the perfect nirvana for a hitter," he said.
It was a game with many heroes, not the least of whom were middle relievers Bob Ayrault and Dwayne Henry.
Ayrault, working in his fourth straight game, kept the A's in check through the 10th and 11th innings. Henry, who threw 62 pitches Tuesday and 65 pitches last night, contained the A's in the 12th, 13th and 14th to pick up the win.
"That was the difference here tonight," Piniella said. "Ayrault and Henry were outstanding."
------------------------------------------------. All-Star numbers. .
Jay Buhner isn't among the leaders in All-Star voting, but his numbers are close to those of teammate Ken Griffey Jr. A comparison of their statistics, with league ranking: . Jay Ken. Buhner Statistic Griffey Jr. . .306 Batting avg. .321. .
15 (9) Home runs 18 (3). .
49 (9) RBI 47. . .544 (8) Slugging pct. .603 (4). .
137 (9) Total bases 158 (2). . .380 On base pct. .408 (8).
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