|Buhner (left) and Brett Boone can't handle a ball hit by Chuck Knoblauch during the sixth inning.
NEW YORK -- When the Mariners went on defense for the first time in their last game of the season Monday night, the player who spent the most time in right field for the past 12 years was out there again.
As a way of saying thanks for the memories, Mariners Manager Lou Piniella sent Jay Buhner -- listed on the lineup card as the starting left fielder -- to right field and Ichiro Suzuki went to left field for the first time this season.
Three hours after the unexpected switch, the Mariners' 2001 season ended with 120 victories but without a trip to the World Series. The third time in the ALCS was not a charm for the AL West champions or Buhner, whose shaved head, long home runs and strong arm became a Mariners staple soon after he being acquired, from the Yankees in a trade for Ken Phelps, in 1988.
After 1,440 regular season games, 307 home runs and 951 RBIs for the Mariners, Buhner is headed for retirement. So is outfielder Stan Javier, who spent the last two seasons with the Mariners and helped the team get to the ALCS both seasons.
Buhner is synonymous with Mariners.
Although the man called "Bone" didn't actually say the word "retire" after the Mariners' season-ending 12-3 loss to the Yankees Monday night at Yankee Stadium, it sounded like this was his final game.
And he acted like it, throwing away everything except for his uniform top.
"I didn't feel like packing it," he said.
"This is not the way you want it to end, but there is a lot for this team to be proud of," Buhner said. "And at the same time for me, I will always remember the last at-bat and the ball to center field."
The ball to center field was a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning of Game 3 Saturday night, which turned out to be the 120th and last win of the season.
Buhner didn't play in the Game 4 loss Sunday night, but was in the lineup for the not-so-grand finale Monday night. There was a "7" beside his name on the lineup card and a usual "9" next to Ichiro's.
But 10 minutes before the first pitch, Piniella pulled the switch.
"It was kind of a last-minute deal, but I think Lou just decided that I would be a little more comfortable in right field, which has a little less ground to cover," said Buhner with a wink. "About 10 minutes before the game, I was out running and throwing and he told me I was going to right instead of left."
Piniella said he made the switch because there is so much more space to cover in left field than right and besides, "Jay is very familiar with right field here."
That he is. During the 1990s, when the Mariners came to town, Buhner always played right field and tormented the team that traded him. He had a .283 career batting average against the Yanks, with 28 home runs and 80 RBIs.
The longest home run of his career -- 482 feet -- was hit at Yankee Stadium.
Asked if this in fact was his final game, Buhner said, "I would say yeah. My body isn't doing what I want it to do anymore and based on how I feel right now, I have gotten just about all I can get out of it.
"I wish I could say I want to come back, but I can't."
But longtime teammate Edgar Martinez said he would try to talk his friend out of retirement during the team's plane ride home Monday night. "Jay still has good bat speed and can still play," Martinez said. "I think I still have a chance to talk him out of it."
But that probably is not going to happen.
Monday night was a time of looking back, not ahead.
"I remember my first game here," he said of Yankee Stadium. "Sure do. Actually, I was the starter in center field. Rickey [Henderson] was in left and Dave Winfield was in right."
Who would have known that Buhner had one current Hall of Famer (Winfield) on one side of him and a future Hall of Famer (Henderson) on the other.
That brought another smile to Buhner's face.
Every season he has played has ended sooner than he wanted. He said being part of the 1995 team that saved MLB for Seattle always will remain as a high point of his career. But playing in the World Series just once isn't going to happen.
And although he spent more of this season on the disabled list because of a foot injury, he thought this would be the year the Mariners played in the final series of the season.
"I don't ever say coulda, shoulda, woulda," he said. "We came here knowing we had our backs up against the wall after losing two games at home, but we still believed we could do it. We really did. We were ready for the challenge, but they came out swinging.
"Everyone in here knows we had a heck of a year winning 116 games and that's pretty impressive no matter what. But sure it would have been nice to finish it off in the World Series."
Javier's final MLB at-bat came as a pinch-hitter -- for Buhner. He lined out to third baseman Scott Brosius.
"My first at-bat was against LaMarr Hoyt right here," said Javier, who also broke in with the Yankees. "Right here in 1984 and it was a fly ball to center field. That was a long time ago."
This year was among his most satisfying.
"We had an unbelievable year," he said. "I mean, hey, we gave it a good shot and I am proud to be part of this team. This team is going to be here in these situations [playoffs] for quite some time. This was a learning experience for a lot of young guys."
The best still might be yet to come. It just won't include a couple of old warriors.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com.