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1998 Yankees Diary, August 2: Jay Buhner gets his revenge

Frank Costanza’s nightmare came to life on a day when David Cone and Joe Torre dropped the ball.

Sports Contributor Archive 2019 Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

On the Mount Rushmore of memorable Seinfeld moments has to be Frank Costanza’s epic rant over the Yankees’ decision to trade Jay Buhner to the Mariners for Ken Phelps in 1988. Looking back, we can understand his frustration as it turned out to be one of the more lopsided trades in franchise history.

Buhner would go on to play 14 seasons for the Mariners, finishing fifth in the 1995 AL MVP race and launching at least 40 home runs in each of the ‘95, ‘96 and ‘97 seasons en route to amassing 310 in his career while becoming a true fan favorite. On the other side, Phelps played 131 games in one-and-a-half seasons for the Yankees and would end up retiring in 1990 after being traded in each of the ‘88, ‘89 and ‘90 seasons. How fitting, then, that Buhner was continuing to punish the Yankees only months after the airing of the sitcom’s final episode.

August 2: Yankees 3, Mariners 6 (box score)

Record: 77-28, .733 (up 14.0)

Heading into the night’s contest, the Yankees were the winners of their previous three series and had taken the first two games of the series from a Mariners squad perhaps still reeling from having dealt Randy Johnson to the Astros two days prior, thanks to impressive starting pitching performances by Hideki Irabu and David Wells.

David Cone had a chance to make it three in a row, and the Yankees had to like their chances considering he was 8-2 with a 1.63 ERA over his 10 prior starts, tallying four double-digit strikeout efforts and averaging just shy of eight innings per start. It was perhaps because of this stretch that Joe Torre showed extra willingness to let his veteran go deep into a game, something which would bite them in the series finale.

Paul Spoljaric, making just his second big league start and first since 1994, started off promising enough, striking out the first two batters he faced. But then he had to face Paul O’Neill, who lined a solo shot to dead center to open the scoring. Spoljaric would walk the next two batters but a strikeout of Jorge Posada would end the threat and settle him down, allowing him to face the minimum in each of the next three frames.

Cone meanwhile struggled after an easy first, giving up a leadoff single to Edgar Martinez in the second followed by a walk of Buhner before Joe Oliver singled Martinez home to level the scores, 1-1. He managed to tally five strikeouts in the first two innings against Spoljaric’s four as both pitchers swing between dominant to wild from one batter to the next.

Things really began to unravel for Cone in the third, as an Alex Rodriguez double, a passed ball, and walks of Ken Griffey Jr. and Martinez loaded the bases with one out. Just when it seemed Cone made the perfect pitch to escape the jam, Shane Spencer dropped a line drive and failed to convert the inning-ending double play, allowing A-Rod to score on the play. Gifted with an extra out, Buhner made the Yankee pay on the very next pitch, singling Griffey home to grab a 3-1 lead when Cone had a chance to get out of it with the game still at one apiece.

Cone appeared to rebound, striking out the first two batters of the fourth, but three straight singles by Joey Cora, A-Rod, and Griffey made it 4-1, Mariners. New York got that run back in the fifth with Chad Curtis drawing a leadoff walk and advancing to second on a wild pitch before scoring on a Scott Brosius double. A Curtis solo shot in the seventh cut the deficit to one, at which point it would’ve been a perfect point for Torre to go to the bullpen to hold the game there with Cone’s pitch count at 109. However, he sent his 36-year-old starter back out for the seventh, and despite another pair of strikeouts to open the frame, a David Segui double and Buhner two-run homer restored the Mariners’ three-run lead, 6-3.

That is where the score would remain, despite the Yankees having golden opportunities in the eighth and ninth. A pair of leadoff singles in the eighth forced Lou Piniella to call on closer Mike Timlin for the six-out save, and an O’Neill line drive double play and Bernie Williams groundout ended that threat. In the ninth, the Yankees had men on second and third with two outs thanks to a Curtis double and Tino Martinez single, but Brosius struck out to end the game.