CHICAGO — Joe Girardi stood near Dustin Fowler with his hands covering his face.
The manager was absolutely gutted, heartbroken as Fowler sat on the ground, waiting for a cart to take him off the field.
Fowler, a 22-year-old prospect who was selected by the Yankees in the 18th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, was making his MLB debut on Thursday night, living out his childhood dream.
But with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, disaster struck. Fowler hustled to try to catch a foul ball off the bat of White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu down the right-field line. He collided with the short-wall, and his right leg slammed into it as he nearly plunged into the stands. It all happened so fast.
Soon, Fowler was down and Girardi and trainer Steve Donohue were quickly out to check on him. His teammates surrounded him. Aaron Judge looked sick from the dugout. It was bad. A brace was placed on Fowler’s right leg, and soon he was being picked up and carted off the field to applause.
The Yankees eventually announced that Fowler had an open rupture of the right patella tendon in his right knee, and underwent surgery at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Surely, it is season-ending.
The whole scene was awful. Fowler would’ve led off the second and had his first career at-bat. He played but didn’t bat in his MLB debut — exactly 112 years to the day that Moonlight Graham did the same (June 29, 1905).
Fowler had absolutely hit the cover off the ball — both during the spring for New York and during the season for Triple-A Scranton. He displayed power. He displayed an ability to drive in runs. He was a gamer. The front office always raved about his makeup.
“I’m overwhelmed right now,” Fowler had said a few hours earlier in the Yankees’ clubhouse. “I’m very excited, glad to be here.”
His promotion had caught him by surprise. But the Yankees have been decimated by injuries of late, leading to the promotions of fellow RailRiders Miguel Andujar (sent down to Triple-A on Thursday) and Fowler’s close friend, Tyler Wade, in recent days.
Clint Frazier could be the next Baby Bomber on his way up as a result of yet another injury — this one to Fowler. Frazier has been a lightning rod for criticism — much of it self-inflicted — but is this the right time? Is he mature enough? And from a baseball perspective, do the Yankees want to bring him up if he isn’t going to play every day?
After all, they already have superstar Aaron Judge and veterans Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner. Is he ready? Outfield prospect Jake Cave could be another option. Or perhaps the Yankees decide to bring Andujar back. They just designated Mason Williams for assignment.
On Wednesday night, Fowler had been pulled from Triple-A Scranton’s lineup. His mind raced. What’s going on? Am I being called up? Am I being traded? He soon learned he was needed in Chicago.
He flew from Syracuse to Chicago on Thursday afternoon, and didn’t arrive until 4:30 p.m. CT. as typical traffic on I-90 from O’Hare International Airport halted his commute. He then had to wait out a 2-hour, 50-minute rain delay. And shortly after that, an awful injury.
This wasn’t how Dustin Fowler’s career was supposed to start. And you can’t help but feel for him.