The Record Staff Writer Pete Caldera examines the site where Yankee right fielder Dustin Fowler suffered a serious leg injury while chasing after a foul ball during the first inning of a game against the White Sox in Chicago on Thursday, June, 29. Pete Caldera/NorthJersey.com
CHICAGO – Dustin Fowler had just arrived on the scene, the latest Yankees rookie called up to assist a club riddled with injury.
But the first-game fate that awaited Fowler was too cruel to ever imagine.
Carted off the field in Thursday night’s first inning, Fowler suffered an open rupture of the right patella tendon – a season-ending injury so gruesome that manager Joe Girardi cried as he surveyed the scene.
Fowler bore a detached look as he sat on the Guaranteed Rate Field warning track, and the late-night game – a 4-3 White Sox win – which ended when ex-Yankee closer David Robertson struck out Aaron Judge with the tying run at third base.
“It’s one of the worst things I’ve seen on a baseball field,’’ said Brett Gardner, who recalled Derek Jeter’s ankle fracture in the 2012 playoffs and Mariano Rivera’s season-ending knee injury earlier that year. “I can’t imagine a worse scenario for him. It’s heartbreaking.’’
In need of additional help, the Yankees could turn to prized outfield prospect Clint Frazier, batting .257 with 12 homers and 42 RBI in 73 games at Class AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
And to make matters worse, Girardi felt Fowler’s injury was preventable; his right knee struck an exposed electrical box set knee-high just inches beyond the padded lower fence.
“I’m not blaming the White Sox, but it’s something that should have been inspected. It needs to be padded or not put there or put lower,’’ said an emotional Girardi. “It doesn’t seem fair that that’s what happened.’’
Starting in right field after a two hour, 50-minute rain delay, Fowler’s knee slammed into the metal box in failed pursuit of a foul ball hit by Jose Abreu.
After taking one unsteady step as he came off the railing, Fowler collapsed to the ground and Yankees rushed to his aid, along with Girardi and head athletic trainer Steve Donohue.
“I’m sick to my stomach, especially after all the hard work he put in to finally get his shot,’’ Judge said. “It’s tough.’’
Once his leg was stabilized, Fowler was helped by Didi Gregorius into the cart – to the applause of the sparse crowd – and immediately taken to Rush University Medical Center, where he underwent surgery.
Rob Refsnyder replaced Fowler in right and dropped Adam Engel’s second-inning, two-out fly ball toward the corner, an error that scored one unearned run and led to another.
Once again, Yankees starter Luis Cessa wasn’t sharp, exiting after 4.2 innings with the Yanks trailing 4-2.
And it would’ve been a four-run deficit if not for left fielder Brett Gardner’s tremendous catch in the fifth, diving toward the line and robbing Yolmer Sanchez’s of a two-run extra-base hit.
Ex-Yankee outfielder Melky Cabrera might have stole a solo homer from Aaron Judge with a leaping catch atop the left field fence in the fifth. The Yanks scored three runs against starter James Shields, but couldn’t break through against the last-place White Sox’s bullpen.
And much later than they anticipated, the Yankees – after splitting a four-game series with Chicago — trudged off to Houston to play the team with the AL’s best record.
Fowler’s parents were expecting to see their son play at Minute Maid Park; they had received the news of Fowler’s call-up too late to get to Chicago for his debut.
Batting sixth in the order, the lefty-hitting Fowler – an 18th round draft pick from Caldwell, Ga. — never came to the plate. He was on deck when Jacoby Ellsbury made the final out in the first inning, when Yanks took a 1-0 lead on first baseman Abreu’s throwing error.
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The third Yankees position player to make his big-league debut in the last three games, along with Tyler Wade and Miguel Andujar, Fowler’s arrival was part of a series of pre-game moves.
Rated the Yankees’ best defensive outfielder entering 2017 by Baseball America magazine, Girardi planned to use Fowler, 22, at all three outfield spots.
At Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Fowler slashed .293/.329/.542 in 70 games, with eight triples, 19 doubles, 13 homers, 43 RBI and 13 stolen bases.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi talks about right fielder Dustin Fowler, who was injured in the first inning while making his major league debut in Chicago against the White Sox on Thursday, June 29, 2017. Pete Caldera/NorthJersey.com