Dustin Fowler will finally have an opportunity to play a major league game at Yankee Stadium this weekend. However, he won’t be wearing a pinstriped uniform when that time arrives.
Instead, the 23-year-old outfielder will be in the opposing dugout with the Athletics, as Fowler was one of three touted prospects that Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman dealt to Oakland in exchange for right-hander Sonny Gray on July 31 of last season.
Fowler was promoted from Triple-A on Wednesday, and he flied out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning of the Athletics’ 4-1 loss to the Astros. That first big league at-bat erased Fowler’s status as the heir to Archibald “Moonlight” Graham — a player who appeared in just one professional game without a plate appearance.
Of course, the comparisons to Graham and his place in baseball lore wouldn’t have surfaced if it wasn’t for a gruesome knee injury Fowler suffered during his major league debut with the Yankees last June 29. In the first inning of a game against the White Sox, Fowler crashed into the wall down the right field line while chasing a fly ball at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago.
As a result of the collision, Fowler was carried off the field with an open rupture to his right patellar tendon. The injury required emergency surgery, and in a matter of hours, Fowler’s season was abruptly over.
But Fowler has made a full recovery since last summer. At long last, he’ll see the Bronx for the first time.
And coincidentally, Fowler will also see Gray on the mound for the Yankees.
It seems like baseball always works this way.
“It’s just the perfect story,” Fowler told reporters on Thursday. “The guy I got traded for, getting to face him. It’ll be nice to be in New York and play in front of that crowd. It’ll be exciting. I’m ready to get there.”
The entire Yankees team video chatted with Fowler after his surgery last June, and a few current Yankees recently recalled the frightening incident.
“[Fowler’s injury] was one of those things that you can’t really describe. All that excitement, making your debut, everything you ever worked for and getting an opportunity … and for it all to be kind of taken away like that, it’s kind of scary,” Brett Gardner told NJ.com’s Randy Miller. “It served as a reminder that we can’t take things for granted and nothing’s guaranteed. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. You just try to enjoy the opportunities that we have today because we never know what the future may hold. I’m thrilled that he’s back feeling 100 percent again and he’s been playing well, too.
“I’m a big believer in things happen for a reason, and for whatever reason, that’s something that he had to deal with. But I’m sure that he’s stronger because of it and I think he has a really, really bright career ahead of him. Obviously, the A’s do, too. And I know the Yankees did as well. I’m just happy for him that he’s getting this opportunity. I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’m just happier than even him being called up and seeing him that he’s healthy.”
Although Fowler’s experience will be unique, Gray will also have to settle some nerves as Friday night’s starter in the Bronx.
“I don’t think it’s something that’s weird; I think [it’s] definitely exciting,” Gray told MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch. “There’s obviously a ton of familiar faces over there. I know a lot of those guys, really, really well, so it will be exciting. It will be familiar, it’ll be fun. The best-case scenario for me is if we can come out with a victory.”
The Yankees are in need of more consistency from Gray, who owns a 6.00 ERA in seven starts (33 innings) this season.
WAIT, CAN THE YANKEES PLAY EVEN BETTER?
As crazy as it sounds, the Yankees haven’t played their best baseball yet.
Although the team had recently won a whopping 17 of 19 games — a stretch the franchise hadn’t seen since the Eisenhower administration (Elvis wasn’t even a household name yet) — several players are in the midst of hitting funks.
Since May 1: Didi Gregorius: 5-for-34 (.147 average); Gary Sanchez: 5-for-25 (.200); Brett Gardner: 6-for-30 (.200); Miguel Andujar: 8-for-35 (.229); Aaron Hicks: 6-for-28 (.214); Tyler Austin: 0-for-15 (.000).
The Yankees’ hottest hitters this month are rookie Gleyber Torres (.367 in 30 at-bats, nine RBI) and utility infielder Neil Walker (.347 in 17 at-bats, three doubles). The team is receiving production from top to bottom, but the entire lineup hasn’t been in sync.