On June 23, 1993, Seattle Mariners right fielder Jay Buhner hit a first-inning grand slam against the Oakland A’s at Seattle’s Kingdome, but he had even more thrills in store for the Wednesday night crowd of 18,625 – especially those who stuck around near midnight. Thirteen innings and more than four hours later, Buhner’s triple completed the first cycle in Mariners history. He then dashed home on a wild pitch to give Seattle a 14-inning 8-7 win over the A’s.
After making his major-league debut with the New York Yankees in 1987, Buhner was traded to Seattle on July 21, 1988.1 He spent the 1989 and 1990 seasons bouncing between the majors and minors, missing significant time in both years because of injuries. In 1991, as SABR biographer Douglas Jordan noted, “Buhner’s apprenticeship was over.”2 Now Seattle’s starting right fielder, Buhner was a solid contributor to the Mariners’ offense, hitting at least 25 homers and driving in at least 77 runs in both 1991 and 1992.
In 1993 the 28-year-old Buhner continued his emergence as the Mariners’ top threat behind superstar center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. Entering play on June 23, Buhner had a .298 batting average and 14 home runs in 66 games. He had homered in three games in a row earlier in June.
The Mariners had won seven of eight games before Oakland came to town, to place them at an even 34-34, in fourth place in the American League West Division standings. They hoped to continue their winning ways in a four-game series against the cellar-dwelling A’s. But Oakland had other plans, taking the first two games of the series, 5-3 and 10-3.
Downs had spent six full seasons with the San Francisco Giants but was released in June 1992. He signed with the A’s soon afterward and was effective over the rest of the season as a swingman, which led to a two-year contract in the offseason. In 1993, however, Downs had struggled, posting a 5.61 ERA in his first 19 appearances, including three starts.3 One local newspaper described Downs as “arguably the worst pitcher on a bad staff during the first two-plus months of the season.”4
By contrast, Fleming had won 17 games in 1992, his first full major-league season. Combined with a 3.39 ERA, he was named the left-handed pitcher on The Sporting News AL All-Star Team, and he placed third in the AL’s Rookie of the Year balloting. He had won two of three decisions in his first six starts of 1993.
On June 23 neither starter was effective. Fleming’s first pitch was a strike, but then Oakland’s Rickey Henderson hit the next pitch over the wall in left. It was Henderson’s eighth homer of the season and the 59th leadoff home run of his career. Oakland took a 1-0 lead. Kevin Seitzer bunted his way aboard for a single. After Fleming retired Rubén Sierra, Terry Steinbach drove a double into the left-field gap, but Seitzer was thrown out at the plate trying to score. Craig Paquette struck out to end the inning.
Taking the mound with an early lead, Downs faced seven batters before getting his first out. Mike Felder and Rich Amaral hit consecutive singles, then Griffey and Pete O’Brien both walked, and the game was tied.
Buhner swung at Downs’ first offering and drove it over the fence in left-center for his 15th home run. This was Buhner’s fourth career grand slam, measured at 413 feet from home plate.
A four-pitch walk to Tino Martínez made it seven straight Mariners to reach base before Mike Blowers struck out and Dave Valle grounded into a double play. Downs had thrown 35 pitches and his team trailed, 5-1.
Fleming allowed two more baserunners in the second but escaped without yielding a run. Downs gave up a leadoff single to Omar Vizquel in the bottom of the second, but another double play by his defense prevented Seattle from scoring.
Oakland rallied against Fleming in the top of the third. With one out, Sierra and Steinbach both reached and crossed home plate on Paquette’s three-run homer to deep left, his fourth of the season, getting the A’s within a run of the Mariners at 5-4.
In the bottom of the fifth with one out, Griffey was given the green light on a 3-and-0 pitch from Downs. The lefty-swinging 23-year-old, already a three-time All-Star, deposited the ball well beyond the right-field wall for his 18th home run of the season and his fifth in four games. Seattle’s lead was 6-4.
An out later, Buhner singled to left. He had doubled in the third and was stranded, but now he had three hits in his first three at-bats. Martínez walked, sending Buhner to second, and Downs was finished. Right-hander Storm Davis came on in relief. Downs told reporters after the game, “I didn’t get into a rhythm. I was just basically scuffling.”5
Fleming retired the first batter in the top of the seventh but gave way to right-hander Jeff Nelson, who was in the second season of what turned out to be a 15-year big-league career. Nelson got the next two he faced to end the inning, then struggled in the eighth. Troy Neel led off with a double. Rookie Brent Gates grounded a single up the middle, scoring Nelson, and advanced to second on the throw to the plate.
Mike Bordick hit a weak grounder to the right side, fielded by first baseman O’Brien, but his throwing error to Nelson covering first allowed Gates to score the tying run and Bordick to move into scoring position. Bordick went to third on Lance Blankenship’s sacrifice. Henderson worked a full count before singling into short right field, and Bordick scored the go-ahead run.
The Mariners struck back, though. With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, pinch-hitter Bill Haselman launched his third homer of the season, off Rich “Goose” Gossage, who was pitching in his 21st season The score was tied again.
It became a bullpen battle. To this point, the A’s had scored 22 runs on 44 hits through the first 26 innings of the series. But three Seattle relievers – Norm Charlton, Bob Ayrault, and Dwayne Henry – followed Nelson by holding Oakland scoreless on two hits over the next six innings.
The A’s relief corps also shut down Seattle, with Ed Nuñez, the sixth Oakland pitcher of the game, contributing 3⅓ scoreless innings. Oakland’s Shawn Hillegas pitched a scoreless 13th and stayed on to pitch the 14th.
Buhner led off for the Mariners. Since his single in the fifth frame, he had struck out twice and grounded out. Now, in the bottom of the 14th, Buhner worked a full count before launching a drive over right fielder Sierra’s head and hit the fence in right-center. The ball bounced back toward the infield, past center fielder Blankenship, who was backing up on the play.
Buhner raced toward third base, and Blankenship’s throw to third was offline. Buhner had hit for the cycle, and the Seattle crowd rewarded him with a standing ovation.
With the winning run 90 feet away, Martínez settled into the batter’s box. He was 0-for-3 but had drawn three walks already in the game. Oakland skipper Tony La Russa called for an intentional walk (Martinez’s fourth free pass of the game). Greg Litton hit a grounder to short, and Martínez was forced for the first out; Buhner stayed at third.
With a 1-and-1 count to Haselman, Hillegas uncorked a wild pitch, and Buhner came home with the walk-off winner. After the game, Buhner said, “I was hoping [the triple] would go out. But when it hit the wall and bounced away, I put my head down and went as fast as I could.”6
The 14-inning affair had taken 4 hours and 37 minutes, and the two teams’ 12 pitchers had faced a combined 123 batters.
In Seattle’s 17th season as a major-league franchise, Buhner became the first Mariner to hit for the cycle.7 The press reported that his 15 home runs, 49 RBIs and .303 average “pushed his stats to All-Star consideration level.”8 (He did not get the selection, and Griffey was the lone representative for the Mariners in 1993.)
As of the beginning of the 2023 season nine batters have hit a grand slam as part of their cycle.9 Buhner was the sixth player to join this select group.
This article was fact-checked by Mark Richard and copy-edited by Len Levin.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, MLB.com, Retrosheet.org, and SABR.org.
Video highlights of Buhner’s cycle can be found at https://www.mlb.com/video/buhner-s-cycle-c20103915.
3 Frank Blackman, “Pitching Woes Leave A’s Downs and Out,” San Francisco Examiner, June 24, 1993: 51. After 42 appearances (with 12 starts) in 1993, Downs had a 5-10 record with a 5.64 earned-run average, and he did not appear in the major leagues again after the season ended.
6 Associated Press, “M’s Buhner Rides Cycle over Athletics,” Bellingham (Washington) Herald, June 24, 1993: 25.
8 LaRue. Buhner hit two more homers before the All-Star Game, but he was not selected as part of the American League’s squad. His first (and only) All-Star Game selection came in 1996.
9 They are Curry Foley, Buffalo (NL), May 25, 1882; Nap Lajoie, Philadelphia (AL), July 30, 1901; Bill Terry, New York (NL), May 29, 1928; Tony Lazzeri, New York (AL), June 3, 1932; Jimmie Foxx, Philadelphia (AL), August 14, 1933; Buhner; Miguel Tejada, Oakland (AL), September 29, 2001; Jason Kubel, Minnesota (AL), April 17, 2009; and Bengie Molina, Texas (AL), July 16, 2010.