MEXICO CITY — Much was made about the thin air here, a mile and a half above sea level, but it was the equally unique playing surface below it that factored in to the Giants’ two losses Sunday: the second game of their international series against the Padres, 6-4, and center fielder Mike Yastrzemski, to a hamstring injury.
The decisive play came in the bottom of the eighth, after Camilo Doval had taken over for Tyler Rogers and allowed one of his inherited runners to score the tying run, leaving two men on for Matt Carpenter. After all the home runs — 15 between the two games — it was a high pop fly from the Padres first baseman into shallow center field that did in Yastrzemski and the Giants.
Yastrzemski, who earlier had already crashed into the chainlink fence in center field, charged hard as the shifting winds held the ball in the air. He launched himself into a dive and appeared to connect his outstretched leather with rawhide, but the ball bounced out. Yastrzemski laid face down on the synthetic turf as two runners scored and gave San Diego the lead for good.
“I really think Yaz, if he’s healthy on that play all the way through the play,” manager Gabe Kapler said, “I think he records that out.”
But Yastrzemski wasn’t at full strength, not even close judging by his limp off the field and in the postgame clubhouse.
On his second step, he said he felt a pop in his left hamstring.
“Just kind of felt like I was at the point where it had already happened, so I might as well try to catch the ball still,” Yastrzemski said. “Obviously wasn’t able to get there in time, but I had to try at least. … I wish things would’ve gone differently.”
It was fairly remarkable for Yastrzemski to even close the distance on the pop fly in no man’s land, let alone doing most of it on a bum hamstring.
But he got there, and the Giants were left to wonder what would’ve happened had they been playing on grass.
“I think if we have a softer surface, he probably ends up making that catch,” starter Alex Cobb said. “The ground is rock hard here. As you see from the ground balls skipping through, I think maybe on soft grass he ends up catching that.”
Yastrzemski limped off the field alongside Kapler and trainer Anthony Reyes and will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of the injury, but he seemed to know Sunday night that he was headed for the injured list.
“Gonna have to probably extend mustache May into June now,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. It’s a bummer, but trying to just keep the spirits high and see where it goes tomorrow.”
If Yastrzemski does miss time, the Giants will miss more than his all-out defense in center field. His 14 RBIs rank second on the team, his seven doubles are tied for first, his five home runs are tied for second, and he was slashing .292/.333/.521, an .854 OPS that was fourth-best among qualified Giants hitters.
It wasn’t the only time Yastrzemski put his body on the line trying to track down a ball in center field Sunday.
Attempting to chase down a deep knock from Nelson Cruz in the second inning, Yastrzemski practically mangled himself in the chainlink fence guarding the video board on the right-center field wall. He collided full speed and just missed the catch, allowing the 42-year-old designated hitter to get to third base standing up.
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And, you guessed it, the playing surface came in to play then, too.
While there was a warning track visible to the eye, it’s not the ideal sensory function to try to double-task with while chasing a fly ball at full speed.
On a typical field, outfielders can gauge their proximity to the wall by feeling the ground change from grass to dirt under their feet. Here, the outfield “grass” is a green-hued synthetic turf, and the “warning track” is made of the same material, only colored brown.
Yastrzemski couldn’t slow down as he approached the wall.
“Those are spots where as an outfielder you’re willing to take one to try to make a play,” Yastrzemski said. “That one didn’t feel great, either. Tough day in the outfield for me.”