Random Box Scores: Aug. 26, 1990 – A (Birth)Day in the Life

Dan Plesac, left, was a key figure in this August game. (via Mike LaChancce)

Dan Plesac, left, was a key figure in this August game. (via Mike LaChancce)

Every once in awhile, it’s fun to dig through an old box score at random. Exploring what was going on at that time, both in the world and in the game, can be a great and instructive trip down memory lane. Often, when we think of dates, we come to dates that revolve around ourselves in a way, and so the first game I gravitated to was a game played on my 16th birthday. Now, I’ll admit that is not very random, but I thought it could be amusing — and slightly depressing — to go back 25 years and write about the game that occurred between the New York Yankees and Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, Aug. 26, 1990.

On that day, the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Vision of Love” by Mariah Carey, the number one movie was Darkman, starring Liam Neeson and directed by Sam Raimi, The Burden of Proof by Scott Turow was a bestseller, and as of that day, Seinfeld had aired only five original episodes.

In baseball news, Yankees’ principal owner George M. Steinbrenner had been (at the time) permanently banned from day-to-day management of the team by MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent — less than a month earlier, on July 30 — for his shady dealings with Howie Spira, though he was allowed to remain owner. He finally stepped away from his post on Aug. 20.

Two-sport marvel Bo Jackson returned to the lineup for the Kansas City Royals 39 days after separating his shoulder in a game against the Yankees in July and hit his fourth consecutive home run. He hit three in a row during the game in July, was injured on a circus catch play in the outfield, went on the disabled list for five weeks, and then hit the first pitch he saw 435 feet for his 20th home run of the season.

And finally, baseball fans were only a few days away from watching as Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr. became the first father/son pair to play on the same team.

Coming into the game on Aug. 26, the Brewers were looking for a four-game sweep in New York against the hapless Yankees, who were all too familiar with losing bunches of games in a row that season. Not that Milwaukee was much better; the Brewers were just a little less unfortunate than the Yankees. Plus, the Brewers didn’t have to deal with the same turmoil the Yankees already had endured in the first year of the 1990s, whose terrible play on the field made the first year of the new decade an exercise in futility for fans watching the team.

Amazingly, a month earlier, just before Steinbrenner’s suspension came down, the Yankees played a five-game series in Cleveland that consisted of a doubleheader on a Friday night, a single game on Saturday afternoon and another doubleheader on Sunday. Guess what the Yankees did? They swept both doubleheaders and lost the middle game. It was a microcosm of their streaky 67-95 season.

On that day, the Yankees found themselves 16 games out of first place and six behind the Brewers, who were in a fourth-place tie with Detroit and Cleveland.

Before we dive into the game action, I thought we could look at some notable players on both teams.

First up, five members of the 1990 Brewers:

Future nine-time All-Star Gary Sheffield was a 21-year-old third baseman for the Brewers. He played in 125 games that year for Milwaukee, the majority manning third base, and he batted .294/.350/.421/.771 with 10 home runs and 67 RBIs. He finished the year with 143 hits, 44 walks and 41 strikeouts. Sheffield gave the Brewers and the rest of baseball a glimpse of what was to come. In fact, two years later, as a member of the San Diego Padres, Sheffield finished third in the NL MVP vote after batting .330/.385/.580/.965 with 33 home runs and 100 RBIs.

Dan Plesac was an All-Star in 1987, 1988 and 1989 as the closer for the Brewers. After his not-as-great 1990 campaign in which he pitched 69 innings, appeared in 66 games, and converted only 24 saves, he started 10 games for Milwaukee the following year and made 66 appearances for a total of 92.1 innings (a career high). He finished 1991 with a record of 3-7. Plesac went on to play for six different teams during his 18-year major league career and finished with a career record of 65-71 and an ERA of 3.64 in 1,072 innings. He is now an analyst on MLB Network.

Future Hall of Famer Robin Yount’s career was beginning its decline in 1990. It wasn’t a sharp dropoff, as Yount had captured the American League MVP award in 1989, but it was the start of a four-year dip in production that saw his average go from consistently above .300 to hovering around .250-.260. Yount turned 35 during the Brewers’ 1990 campaign and batted .247/.337/.380/.717 with 145 hits in 158 games, far from the 195 hits he recorded in his MVP year. Yount would play his entire 20-year career with the Brewers and was voted into Cooperstown in 1999.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Another future Hall of Famer, Paul Molitor, appeared in this game, playing second base for the Brewers. In 1990, 33-year-old Molitor had an abbreviated season due to a variety of injuries beginning with a sore shoulder in spring training and culminating in a collision with Jim Gantner in the final week of the season. He batted .285 with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs in the 103 games he managed to play. Molitor spent the majority of his career in Milwaukee, making the All-Star team seven times and appearing on MVP ballots nine times. The closest he came to winning the award was in 1993, when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays. He finished second behind yet another future Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas.

Charlie O’Brien was one of Milwaukee’s catchers in 1990. Well, for most of the year. O’Brien played in this game and one more for the Brewers, on Aug. 29, before being shipped off to the New York Mets in a trade on Aug. 30. One of the players he was traded for was Kevin Brown. No, not that Kevin Brown, the other one, who played in the majors for only three years. As for O’Brien, his 1990 wasn’t great. In fact, he wasn’t  great offensively throughout his entire career and finished with a lifetime batting average of .221. But he did play for 15 seasons with eight different teams and ended his career with the Montreal Expos in 2000. More recently, O’Brien testified during former Toronto teammate Roger Clemens’ obstruction of Congress trial in 2011.

Five members of the 1990 Yankees:

Infielder Steve Sax came over to the Yankees as a free agent before the 1989 season. Before joining them, Sax won World Series titles with the Dodgers in 1981 and 1988. In his three years with New York, Sax hit .294/.342/.376/.718 with 19 home runs and 161 RBIs. In 1990, he played 155 games and made the American League All-Star for the second year in a row and fifth time overall, though it would be his last such appearance. After struggling at the beginning of his career with his defense, he recovered nicely and had one of his best years with the leather in 1989. Sax ended his career in 1994 at the age of 34, playing his last game with the Oakland Athletics on May 8 of that year.

The 1990 season was not a good one for Yankees’ first baseman Don Mattingly. In fact, it was probably one of the worst of his career, both statistically and physically. He signed a five-year, $19.3 million contract on April 10, making him the highest-paid player at the time. Unfortunately, he didn’t play up to that contract, due in part to two bum discs in his back. He missed 60 games, couldn’t hit for power when he did manage to play, and finished the season with only five home runs and 42 RBIs in 428 at-bats. Donnie Baseball would recover enough to put up more than respectable numbers for the remainder of his career, which ended after the 1995 season. He just signed a deal to be the manager of the Miami Marlins after his term as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers came to a close.

The phrase “burst onto the scene” is probably a bit overused when describing Kevin Maas’ rookie season in 1990, but he really did. Maas, whom the Yankees hoped would be the heir apparent to Mattingly, came up to the big club on June 29 and hit an amazing 21 home runs in 79 games. He set a record by hitting his first 10 home runs in only 72 at-bats, and the left-handed Maas gave Yankee fans something to cheer in the abysmal 1990 season. But, as with many others who have “burst onto the scene,” his star faded almost as quickly. While Maas hit a respectable 23 home runs the following season, he had 292 more at-bats in which to reach that number, playing in 149 games as the first baseman and DH. He hit only .220 in 1991, lasted in the majors until 1995 and finished with just 65 career home runs.

When Jesse Barfield was traded to the New York Yankees for Al Leiter early in the 1989 season, Yankees fans knew what to expect. He had played for the Toronto Blue Jays for his entire career up to that point, usually hit double-digit home runs and was a solid all-around player. In 1990,  Barfield’s age-30 season, he hit 25 home runs for the Yankees in 570 plate appearances, but it wasn’t what the Yankees had hoped for. Barfield played most of his 153 games that year in right field while occasionally manning center. His career with the Yankees was cut short by injuries, and Barfield finished his Yankees career in Fenway Park in a game against the Red Sox on June 17, 1992. He went 0-3 with two strikeouts. Injuries would plague him for the remainder of his career, and he retired in 1994 after a brief stint with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan.

Jim Leyritz made his Yankees debut on June 8, 1990, against the Orioles and finished with a hit and an RBI. He played 92 games and appeared in a variety of roles: He played third base, he’d catch as a backup for Bob Geren, he played in left field, and he even played a few games in right field. All in all, Leyritz batted .257 with five home runs and 25 RBIs in 339 plate appearances. Leyritz would go on to hit two of the biggest postseason home runs in New York Yankees’ history. The first was during the Yankees’ long-awaited return to the postseason in 1995 when he clubbed a 15th inning, walk-off homer against the Seattle Mariners in the division series. The second one, the following season in the World Series against the defending champion Atlanta Braves, came with the Yankees down by three runs in a pivotal Game Four in Atlanta. Leyritz’s three-run blast tied the game in the top of the eighth inning, and the Yankees would go on to win the game — and ultimately the series in six games — for their first title since 1978. Leyritz would play 11 years in the majors and retire after the 2000 season.

The game between the Brewers and the Yankees was the last in a four-game weekend series, and first pitch was scheduled for 1:37 p.m., in front of a paid crowd of 31,045 at Yankee Stadium II.

The lineups:

Brewers Yankees
  Paul Molitor, 2B Roberto Kelly, CF
   Mike Felder, LF Oscar Azocar, LF
Gary Sheffield, 3B Matt Nokes, DH
   Dave Parker, DH Kevin Maas, 1B
   Robin Yount, CF Jesse Barfield, RF
      Rob Deer, RF Rick Cerone, C
    Greg Brock, 1B Jim Leyritz, 3B
Charlie O’Brien, C Alvaro Espinoza, SS
    Edgar Diaz, SS   Steve Sax, 2B
  Ron Robinson, SP Chuck Cary, SP

The umpires were Terry Craft behind home plate, Larry McCoy at first, Dave Phillips at second and John Hirshbeck at third.

It was a sunny, dry afternoon in New York when the Yankees took the field for the top of the first inning, and things went well for Cary to start. He set down the first three Brewers in order, including a strikeout of Molitor to start the game.

The Yankees struck first in the bottom of the inning. Roberto Kelly hit a line drive to left just out of the reach of Mike Felder and safely made it into second for a double. Left fielder Oscar Azocar hit a fly ball to Felder for the first out. While Matt Nokes was at the plate, Kelly stole third, which set up a possible sacrifice. Nokes did what the Yankees needed and hit the ball to the right side, and the only play the Brewers had was at first with Robinson covering the bag. The Yankees quickly took the lead, 1-0.  Maas hit a single and stole second but was left stranded in scoring position when Barfield struck out after a seven-pitch at-bat.

The Brewers hit two fly balls, to center and to right, for two quick outs to start the second inning. Rob Deer also hit a fly ball to left, but his kept on going and landed in the left-field seats to tie the game at one. Greg Brock stepped in, and Cary surrendered yet another fly ball, this time to left-center field, but Kelly tracked it down for the third out.

Both starters got into a bit of a groove for a while before Cary gave up another home run in the fourth, this time to Dave Parker. Luckily for Cary and the Yankees, it was another solo shot.

As the Yankees struggled to do much of anything against Ron Robinson, Cary gave up yet another home run, this time in the top of the sixth inning to Felder. His shot, on the second pitch of the at-bat, was a line drive into the left-field seats, and it put the Brewers up, 3-1.

In the bottom of the seventh, it looked like the Yankees were finally getting something going. After Rick Cerone had hit a fly ball to right field for the first out, Leyritz hit a single. Brewers manager Tom Trebelhorn came out and called upon reliever Paul Mirabella to replace Robinson. While this happened, Mel Hall was going to pinch hit for shortstop Alvaro Espinoza, but with the lefty reliever coming in, Yankees manager Stump Merrill opted to go with Steve Balboni instead.

Mirabella walked Balboni, who was replaced by pinch-runner Wayne Tolleson, with Leyritz advancing to second. Mirabella was replaced immediately by Chuck Crim, who was greeted rather rudely by Sax, who hit a single to load the bases with one out. Everything seemed to be going the Yankees’ way, but   Kelly hit a weak pop fly to second and Azocar hit a line out to left center, ending the inning. The score was still 3-1 in favor of the Brewers.

After Cary, still pitching for the Yankees in the top of the eighth, set down Diaz, Molitor and Felder in order, the Yankees, once again, had a chance to get something going in the bottom of the frame.

Trebelhorn brought in his closer, Dan Plesac, to start the bottom of the eighth while Merrill went with Randy Velarde as a pinch-hitter for Nokes. The move seemed to pay off for Milwaukee at first when Velarde struck out swinging on four pitches. Maas also struck out on four pitches, this time looking, but thanks to a passed ball, he advanced to first base. Barfield then stepped into the box against Plesac and hit a first-pitch, game-tying home run to left field. The Yankees finally hit their own home run after watching their starter surrender three, and it was a big one.

Alas, the Yankees didn’t add to the lead. Plesac got Cerone to pop out and Leyritz to fly out to end the eighth with the score tied.

The ninth inning started off with Cary still pitching for the Yankees, but after he walked Sheffield on five pitches and gave up a single to Parker, Merrill finally lifted him for a righty reliever, Jeff Robinson. Robinson didn’t help matters when he walked Deer to load the bases after getting Yount to ground out to short.

So with the Brewers threatening to score, Yankees reliever Lee Guetterman was brought in to face Brock, who had hit a three-run home run in the ninth inning the day before off Yankees closer Dave Righetti, propelling lead the Brewers to a 5-3 win. Fortunately for the fans at the Stadium, there would not be a repeat on this day, as Guetterman struck out Brock looking on three pitches and induced a grounder to third from O’Brien for the final out, ending the Brewers’ scoring threat.

If the fans gathered at the Stadium were looking for bottom-of-the-ninth heroics, they wouldn’t find them on this day, as the Yankees went down meekly with two strikeouts by Tolleson and Kelly sandwiching a pop fly by Sax, and the game headed into extra innings.

Both Plesac and Guetterman set down the opposing batters in order, and the game remained tied through the 10th inning.

In the 11th, Guetterman once again found himself in a bit of a pickle when he surrendered a single to Sheffield, followed by a sacrifice bunt by Greg Vaughn, which put the possible leading run on second. After an intentional walk to Yount and a ground out put Sheffield on third, Guetterman once again settled down, got two ground outs, and did not allow the Brewers to score.

So could the New York Yankees send their fans home happy and end their losing streak in the bottom of the 11th?

Well, Barfield got things started against Plesac, who was still in the game, by working a walk. Cerone sacrificed Barfield to second. The Brewers then intentionally walked Leyritz to set up the double play, but Tolleson and his .150 average spoiled their plans. He hit a weak grounder to third, and the only play for the Brewers was at first base, which advanced both runners.

With two runners in scoring position and two out in the bottom of the 11th inning, Sax had a chance to be the hero, and on the first pitch of the at-bat, he hit a grounder through the hole between first and second, Barfield scored, and three hours and 37 minutes after it started, the Yankees won the game, 4-3.

What’s amazing to me is that Plesac blew a save in the eighth on a first-pitch home run and picked up the loss in the 11th on a first-pitch single. You don’t see that happen too often these days. It’s rare that a reliever who enters the game in the eighth is still standing on the mound in the 11th, especially if said reliever gives up a game-tying home run in the eighth. And it’s the same for Guetterman, who worked into and out of trouble a couple times. If he were pitching now, he more than likely wouldn’t have been the one to pick up the win. Or maybe I’ve just been watching managers like Joe Girardi for too long.

The 1990 season ultimately would end up a disappointing one for both the Brewers and the Yankees, who finished sixth and seventh in the American League Eastern Division, respectively — the Brewers finished 74-88, and the Yankees 67-95. The Yankees actually won the season series against the Brewers, 7-6. The Brewers were one of four teams the Yankees played over .500 against in 1990, but while it  took the Yankees only a few years to crawl out of the AL East basement and get back to their championship-winning ways, the Brewers, who moved to the National League before the start of the 1998 season, are still looking for their first World Series title.

References & Resources

Stacey Gotsulias is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on ESPN.com, USA Today online and FanRag Sports. She currently writes for Baseball Prospectus and is an author of The Hardball Times. Follow her on Twitter @StaceGots.
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87 Cards
6 years ago

Steve Sax was a Brewer killer. .327 BA / 11 2Bs in 230 ABs. Eventually 4 for 7 against Plesac though only one hit in one at-bat (1989) against the MLB network analyst at time of this game.

6 years ago

Ahhh, memories.

Tough to be a Yankee fan in 1990. I remember thinking Oscar Azocar was going to be a star. Stocked up on his rookie cards…. Can’t win ’em all.

Remember when Kevin Maas complained that he didn’t want to DH and he really wanted to be the starting RFer. Manager told him he could be the starting DH in NY or the starting RFer in Columbus – his choice. What a wonderful response.

6 years ago
Reply to  Carl

I just love pointing today’s “youngsters” in the direction of 1990 when they complain about how bad the current team is. I usually say, “You want to see bad? Look up the 1990 squad,” and that’s only because I wasn’t around for the lean CBS years of the mid 60s to early 70s so the 80s/early 90s are my CBS years. And the 80s weren’t even terrible, they kept just missing the playoffs.

6 years ago

What a wonderful article. I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Thank you

6 years ago

Amazing…. Their best hitter batting 8th

6 years ago
Reply to  Mike

Actually Sax is batting 9th as the pitcher wasn’t hitting.

Matthew Kory
6 years ago

Well done, Stacey!

6 years ago

I was at this game. We had the weekend ticket package from 1981 until 1995. Yeah. 1995.

This team actually started to have some of the hope of the future.

It was false but the group of cary, Johnson, taylor and kameniecki was promising. Kelly, Maas and leyritz looked like future pieces.

And everyone knew that the next big Yankees stars were coming up through the system in Bernie Williams and Hensley Meulens.

And the next couple of drafts would include the greatest prospect in draft era Yankees history and a sure fire everyday short stop with the possibility of being an all star.

Obviously Brien Taylor got hurt but jeter worked out.

This season was the beginning of the good times. Steinbrenner was finally gone. They had a likable team of veterans. And for the first time in about six years young players were a major part of the team.

6 years ago

Great article; thanks for posting!

Of course, the Brewers during that time were in a 26-year streak of not making the playoffs. Two years later, they came within four games of first place in the East (while finishing 16 games ahead of the Yankees).

On another note, I’ve always wondered why MLB didn’t simply move the Brewers back to the AL when re-aligning the leagues, rather than forcing another team to move. It would’ve made a hell of a lot more sense.

6 years ago
Reply to  JohnnyP

Johnny P, I believe the reason for that starts and ends with some guy named Bud with a conflict of interest that surely wouldn’t be tolerated in any other sport.

John C
6 years ago
Reply to  Dan

As I recall, Selig wanted to move to the NL when the subject came up. He said he’d grown up thinking of Milwaukee as an NL city back when the Braves played there. (He was in his late teens and early 20’s at the time, though.)

Whatever his reasoning, he wasn’t going to volunteer to go back. More than likely, the Astros got switched because that gave Texas one team in each league, which is how they seem to like it when two teams share a market. I’ve gotten used to the Brewers, but it’s still hard for me to think of the Astros as an AL team, though.