Dee Gordon and the grieving Marlins beat the Mets 7-3 on Monday night in Miami, taking the field for the first time since the untimely death of ace Jose Fernandez.
The 24-year-old Fernandez and two close friends were killed in a boating accident early Sunday off of Miami Beach, a tragedy that sent shockwaves throughout the baseball community.
The teams lined up on the baselines while those in Miami’s starting lineup congregated near the pitcher’s mound as a heartbreaking pregame ceremony commenced. The public address announcer at Marlins Park spoke some brief words about Fernandez, first in Spanish and then English, as multiple players from both sides began to break down.
A moment of silence was followed by a solo trumpet rendition of Take Me Out to the Ballgame, played as a photo slideshow of the two-time All-Star and 2013 Rookie of the Year was shown on the center field scoreboard.
By the time the national anthem wrapped up there was nary a dry eye in the house, with Marlins stars Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton taking multiple deep breaths amongst the tears. The entirety of both clubs then gathered on the infield, exchanging hugs in a touching moment of solidarity among NL East rivals while chants of ‘Jo-se’ rang out from the crowd of 26,933.
“I saw some real emotion out of both teams. I can understand their team, but you saw some of our guys that were touched by the whole thing, rightfully so,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “We’re all gonna miss him for a long time. He’ll be in our minds forever.”
After the Mets left the field, each Marlin returned to the area near the mound and knelt together, many putting dirt in their pockets and scribbling Fernandez’s initials and number onto the surface where the Cuban-born right-hander plied his craft.
The crestfallen club then huddled as Stanton gave a short speech, after which he led them in pointing to the sky in salute of their fallen teammate. The melancholy tune “See You Again” by Charlie Puth played over the stadium loudspeakers as most Marlins walked in unison back to the dugout while others prepared to take their positions, all wearing #16 Fernandez jerseys in place of their own; a number that will never be worn again by a Marlins player following Monday’s game.
“It’s not scripted. Nobody tells you how to handle it,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I feel like they just stuck together and went out and played.”
Dee Gordon, who wore a t-shirt with the letters R.I.P. across the chest where the ‘I’ was represented by a picture of Fernandez, was still crying along with veteran Martin Prado while they tossed the ball around as starter Adam Conley threw his warmup pitches.
Standing on a mound with Fernandez’s number emblazoned on the back side, the left-hander began the unenviable task of taking the hill in a game that his friend and staffmate was originally scheduled to start.
Pitching for the first time in seven weeks after being shelved with a finger injury, Conley set the tone with three scoreless frames including an eight-pitch second inning.
Gordon, a lefty hitter, led off the bottom of the first by stepping into the right-hander’s batter box as another way to honor Fernandez; who hit .213 from that side of the plate with two home runs and 14 RBIs in 136 career at-bats. After taking ball one from starter Bartolo Colon, last year’s NL batting champion switched to his natural side.
What happened next was akin to something right out of a Hollywood screenplay.
With just eight home runs in over two thousand plate appearances coming in, the slender second baseman crushed a 2-0 fastball into the second deck in right field to put Miami on the board immediately. Gordon cried rounding the bases, looking up to the sky and pounding his chest once he crossed home plate. He was greeted and embraced by each teammate as he made his way into the dugout, the crowd on its feet. Yelich, with tears streaming down his face, stood on the top step in disbelief.
“That was one of the best moments of my life,” a visually drained Gordon, 4-for-5 with 2 RBIs and a stolen base on the night, said to Fox Sports Florida after the game. “I don’t have kids so that’s the best moment of my life to hit a home run for him.”
Stanton started the second with a single up the middle off of Colon. Justin Bour lined a deep shot off the wall in left-center for a double, pushing Stanton to third. J.T. Realmuto hit a soft grounder to short for an infield single, scoring the Marlins slugger for their second run.
Miami continued to square the ball up against the typically reliable veteran, tagging him for seven runs on eight hits over 2.1 innings in what was arguably his worst start of the season.
“Bart got off to a rough start and you hoped that he was going to settle down and get it going because we needed some innings,” Collins said. “We just fell too far behind early.”
Adeiny Hechavarria crushed the 43-year-old’s next pitch over Curtis Granderson’s head in right-center for a ground-rule double, sending Bour home for a 3-0 lead.
Conley lined a bunt towards Jose Reyes at third, executing a successful safety squeeze that allowed Realmuto to score Miami’s fourth run.
Gordon singled in Hechavarria to extend Miami’s advantage to 5-0.
The Marlins continued the barrage against Colon, who threw just 47 pitches, in the third. Yelich led off with a single back up the box. Granderson made a nice sliding catch on a hard-hit Stanton liner to rob a potential hit. Six-foot-four Justin Bour, not exactly fleet of foot, got one by Jay Bruce in right for his first career triple.
After diving into third, Bour popped up and flexed both arms while looking towards the Miami dugout. Yelich, who came home on the hit to make the score 6-0, was grinning ear-to-ear on his way back to the bench, a rare smile on a trying night.
“I never hit a ball that far, even in BP,” Gordon said. “For that to happen today and for J.B. to hit that triple, man, we had some help.”
Colon was lifted after the unlikely three-bagger for Gabriel Ynoa, who allowed an RBI single to Hechavarria that padded the lead to 7-0.
Lucas Duda worked a pinch-hit walk against reliever Brian Ellington with one out in the fifth. Rookie Brandon Nimmo, drafted one pick ahead of Fernandez in 2011, followed with a single. The red-hot Asdrubal Cabrera, batting .349 with 6 homers and 17 RBIs in September, lined a double into the right field corner that cleared the bases and cut Miami’s lead to 7-2.
A day after scoring 17 runs against Philadelphia, a string of nine Miami pitchers held New York in check despite allowing six walks.
Duda’s opposite-field single against reliever Kyle Barraclough in the eight drove in Bruce, wrapping up the night’s scoring at 7-3.
With Cincinnati clobbering the Cardinals 15-2 and the Giants off, the Mets remain a half game ahead of San Francisco for the first NL Wild Card spot with just five more to play.
“We’re lucky that St. Louis is getting beat tonight,” Collins said. “This night is over and hopefully we can get back to doing what we do and win baseball games.”
After Granderson grounded out against A.J. Ramos for the third out in the ninth, Gordon looked towards the heavens and tapped his hat to chest. Stanton, Yelich and others instantly peered up at the night sky as well, appearing to say something to the man who was always full of life even on days when he wasn’t pitching.
“I think they really wanted to honor Jose, the way he played and how he went about (his business). Just that joy that he had when he played and that confidence and that energy,” Mattingly said. “I really think that was the focus of these guys of honoring him by the way we played.”
Stanton then turned his jersey around so that Fernandez’s name and number were facing the front as he headed towards the infield. The players all lined up in a procession and hugged one another for several minutes, as Gordon removed his Marlins jersey and revealed the R.I.P. T-shirt underneath.
With the game ball placed carefully between the rubber and Fernandez’s number, the entire Marlins squad formed a circle around the mound as Stanton appeared to give a speech to his teammates; touching his jersey and pointing at the #16 now on his chest while addressing them as the crowd erupted.
The team then bowed their heads in unison, many with their eyes shut, for an extended period of silence and reflection.
Then, in a truly poignant moment, they did what baseball players do. They left it all on the field and said goodbye to Jose Fernandez, the energetic leader of their pitching staff with the electric arm and the infectious smile.
All at once the Miami Marlins removed their caps, pointed them to the sky, and dropped them on the mound in a pile. The crowd began to chant “Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se” as several players crouched down to tap the #16 emblem, many beginning to weep.
As a unit, they broke to leave the field with Gordon and Stanton hugging once again.
Within a few beats, all that remained on the pitcher’s mound was the game ball and a pile of Miami hats, many with personalized tributes scribbled on them. That, and the countless memories left behind by a once-in-a-generation talent that left the game, and the world, much too soon.
Rest in peace, Jose. Baseball already misses you.
Photo credit: Jasen Vinlove – USA Today Sports