Gary Sanchez’s surprising rehab assignment in the Holy City was a godsend for Charleston RiverDogs fans.
Despite going 0-3 at the plate, the New York Yankees’ all-star slugger produced a sellout crowd on a random Monday night for the club's low-level Class A affiliate.
But the game, while a positive in the Lowcountry, signifies a recurring problem for the Yankees early in the 2019 campaign: they simply can’t stay healthy.
New York has an all-star caliber lineup on the disabled list, which should have resulted in a rocky start to the season.
Luckily, Charleston doesn’t just receive gifts. They give them too, which is why former RiverDogs are keeping the Yankees above water in the brutal American League East.
Young guys on minimal contracts are contributing for New York while home run sluggers Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and others work themselves back to full strength.
Who is Mike Ford?
That would have been a valid question before Tuesday's late-night game against the Los Angeles Angels. On a field that included Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and several other A-List names, Ford stole the show.
After making his MLB debut on April 18, Ford hit his first big-league homer in the fifth inning of Tuesday’s game, helping the Yankees to an eventual 7-5 win.
Ford has been waiting for that moment since he signed with New York in 2013 as a non-drafted free agent. That includes 93 games with the RiverDogs in 2014, a year in which the former Princeton star batted .283 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs.
Ford also made history that year. As a RiverDog, he became one of the only players in professional baseball history to homer four times in one game.
Holy City Saviors
Ford isn’t the only former RiverDog that’s contributed to New York’s recent hot streak. Through Friday, the Yankees had won nine of their last 11 games. Here’s a few others who contributed to the cause.
Kyle Higashioka: A seventh-round pick for New York in the 2008 draft, Higashioka played four games for New York before heading back to triple-A this week. The catcher only batted .200 but he had big moments that included a key third-inning run in Monday’s win over the Angels.
Higashioka played 90 games for the RiverDogs in 2010 and batted .225 with six home runs and 24 RBIs.
Tyler Wade: New York’s fourth-round pick in 2013 played in 66 games for the Yankees before this season. Through 16 games in 2019, the utility infielder has batted .243 with three RBIs and five stolen bases. That includes a two-out single in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game that sparked a last-inning rally, giving the Yankees a 6-5 victory.
Wade was alongside Ford in 2014, playing 129 games in Charleston. In that span, he netted 51 RBIs and stole 22 bases while batting .272.
Prior to Sanchez’s return to the Bronx on Wednesday, he was on the Yankees' impressive but upsetting roster on the DL.
• Sanchez was the catcher, and had already hit six homers through 11 games before injuring his calf on April 12.
• All-Star outfielders Judge and Stanton are both expected to be out deep into May with oblique and shoulder injuries, respectively.
• Third baseman Miguel Andujar is expected to be out until at least May 1, after a breakout campaign in 2018 that included 27 homers and 92 RBIs.
• Shortstop Didi Gregorius’ elbow injury will likely have him out until June. A top 20 MVP candidate in 2017 and 2018, Gregorius hit 27 long balls and 86 RBIs in the latter.
• Several reliable pitchers are also out through the rest of the month, including Luis Severino, Dellin Betances and Jordan Montgomery.
Hopefully for New York, the Baby Bombers – and former RiverDogs – can continue holding down the fort. Injuries and all, they're just 1½ games back in the AL East.