The ball Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter did not catch in the eighth inning of Sunday night’s ALCS game against the Red Sox reminded me of the one Mariners right fielder Jay Buhner did make midway through the 1997 season.
On July 29, also in the eighth inning, Buhner went head-over-heels and into the Fenway Park bullpen to rob Scott Hatteberg (of Moneyball fame) of a home run in a game the Mariners eventually lost 4-0.
Despite the score, and the danger such a tumble could present, Buhner ran to the wall separating the bullpens from the field, jumped and disappeared. A few seconds later, he got up, climbed over the wall and displayed the ball tucked safely in his glove.
Hunter, unlike Buhner, was unable to make the catch, a grab that would have protected a four-run Tigers lead. Other than that, the “plays” were similar in all-out effort.
Buhner, contacted at his Montana cabin where he’s on a fishing trip, said he was at his Issaquah, Wa.. home watching Game 2 of the ALCS on television and it triggered his memory bank.
“Anytime you see something like that,” he said, “it brings back fond memories.”
It has been more than 16 years since the Buhner catch and he said, “I don’t remember that much about it. I just remember going over the wall, making the catch, climbing back over the wall and showing the ball.
“The funny thing is,” he added, “during pre-game stretching, Junior (Ken Griffey Jr.) and I had a conversation with (former AL umpire Durwood Merrill) and we asked him what the ruling would be if an outfielder went over the fence to catch a ball.
“He said, “well, son, if you go over the fence, catch the ball and come back onto the field of play with the ball, and show you have control of it, then it’s an out. Otherwise, if you are on the other side of the wall and throw it back into the field of play, it’s a home run.”
As fate would have it, that play occurred that very same night.
“I swear, that’s exactly what happened,” Buhner said. “Durwood said later, ‘There is no way that happened. We were just talking about it.'”
That catch was later selected by Mariners fans as the best home run-robbing play in franchise history.
Hunter might have received similar status in Tigers’ lore if he had made a great catch that would have deprived former Mariner David Ortiz of a game-tying grand slam.
The Mariners went on to capture the second of their three AL West Division championships.