Dustin Fowler never got to play in Yankee Stadium.
Last June, Fowler — then one of the New York Yankees’ brightest prospects — got his first Major League start at Chicago. Chasing after a Jose Abreu foul ball down the right field line, he flipped over a low wall and into the stands, tearing his right patellar tendon.
Thirty-one days later, Fowler — one of the Yankees’ top prospects — was traded to the Oakland Athletics for Sonny Gray. On Friday, Fowler will finally get to take the field in the Bronx, but as a visiting player. Gray is slated to start.
“It’s just a perfect story,” Fowler said on Wednesday, after his Oakland debut. “The guy I got traded for, getting to face him, it’ll be fun. It’ll be nice to be in New York, and play in front of that crowd.”
“You talk about your center fielder of the future, this is the guy we’ve targeted for that,” manager Bob Melvin said. “Against righties, he’ll get plenty of starts. There’s no reason to bring him here and not play him.”
The A’s have lost their last three in a row to the reigning world champion Astros, while the Yankees (26-11) have won 17 of their last 18 games in pursuit of their own pennant run.
The Yankees lead the Major Leagues with 209 runs scored across 36 games. Only three teams have hit more home runs than New York’s 51 (the Angels, Cleveland and Toronto are tied with 52). During their 18-game hot streak, the Yankees have hit 25 home runs.
The A’s (18-19) have scored just 22 runs in their past nine games, hitting just .197 during that span. Over the course of the season, Oakland leadoff hitters have hit just .216 with an on-base percentage of .320.
The A’s are currently 29th out of 30 Major League teams in stolen bases (7), with leadoff hitter Marcus Semien having swiped three of those. A spark at the top of the lineup could be just what the A’s need, and Fowler — a unique combination of speed and power — could climb his way to the top of the lineup sooner rather than later.
In 30 games for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds before he was called up, he ranked fourth in Triple-A baseball with eight stolen bases. Before he was promoted, Fowler was batting .310 with three home runs, three triples, seven doubles and 16 RBIs, and in his last 14 games, he hit .370 with five doubles, three triples and three home runs.
“Knee’s been fine,” Fowler said. “I haven’t had any issues so far. Haven’t had any speed I’ve lost, so everything’s been good. Just keeping it going, I’m getting stronger every day’s I’m happy with that. Hopefully, we can stay away from walls this go-around.”
The A’s are set to face Gray (2-2, 6.00 ERA in seven starts) on Friday, then right-handers Domingo German (0-1, 2.66) and Luis Severino (5-1, 2.21), so it stands to reason Fowler — a left-handed hitter — will start all three against the Yankees. Right-handed-hitting Mark Canha has held the line in center field — hitting a career-best .275 with five home runs and 13 RBIs in 23 games — but Fowler could be a game-changer for an offense that’s struggled mightily lately, outside of Jed Lowrie.
In his second tour of duty with Oakland, Lowrie leads the American League with 32 RBIs (second in the Majors) and is eighth in the Majors with a .338 batting average (6th in the AL). Big boppers Matt Chapman and Matt Joyce — who combined for 39 home runs and 108 RBIs last season — are a combined 6-for-57 with no RBIs over the last nine games.
Fowler’s call-up was only a matter of time. He got that call at midnight on Wednesday from Sounds manager Fran Riordan. He gathered his belongings at the stadium, and flew out to Oakland at 8 a.m. He was in the park by 11, and began hitting in the cages.
In the seventh inning of Wednesday’s 4-1 loss, when Houston switched Joe Smith out for Will Harris, Fowler finally got his first at-bat.
“He knew ahead of time he was going to get that at-bat,” Melvin said. ” … I believe it’s good to get him an at-bat before he has a start, just so he’s got an at-bat, he’s out there with his teammates.”
Fowler hasn’t seen “Field of Dreams,” or read “Shoeless Joe,” the W.P. Kinsella novel upon which the film was based, but he knows the story of Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham: The very real New York Giant who played just one defensive inning for John McGraw in 1905 at Washington Park in Brooklyn. His one inning? It happened 112 years — to the day — before Fowler flipped over that wall in Chicago. Graham never got an at-bat. The thought that he would never return to the Major Leagues, though, never entered Fowler’s mind.
“From the get-go, the doctors said it would be a high success rate, so there was really no worries about a week on of losing speed and not coming back,” Fowler said. “It was a positive road ahead, and it was long and hard, but it was positive reinforcement the entire time. I never had any issues of not coming back.”
In his first Major League at-bat, Fowler stepped in against Harris and took a 93 mph called strike, and then sent a soft liner off the hands to second.
“My whole approach was just to get the jitters out, get the first AB out of the way,” Fowler said. “I didn’t really want to overthink anything. I went up there, took a pitch then took a swing and he pretty much blew my thumbs up. It was nice just to get it out of the way.”
On Friday, with his parents and family from New York and Boston in attendance, Fowler will get his next at-bat. At Yankee Stadium.
“It’ll be exciting,” he said. “I’m ready to get there.”
The A’s and Yankees square off at 4:05 p.m. Pacific. It will be televised on NBC Sports California, and broadcast on: 95.7 FM The Game.