On Monday night, the Mets faced the Marlins in a road game in Miami. Jose Fernandez was slated to face Bartolo Colon. It should have been just another exciting step on the road to a possible playoff berth for the Mets, as Fernandez thrilled his hometown fans with another strikeout-filled performance.
Instead, the events of early Sunday morning transpired, and baseball was forced to move on without the young star, who seemed on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Everyone around the game was wounded, but none beyond Fernandez’s own family could compare to the feelings of the Marlins players themselves, who absolutely loved him. There have been countless posts around the internet since his sudden passing about just how much Fernandez meant to not only the team but the city of Miami itself, and every one of them contains a moving story. He was truly special.
Somehow, some way, the Marlins recuperated after the cancelled game Sunday to take on the Mets. There is an excellent game recap by Scott Orgera up that delves further into the contest itself, but the pregame ceremony was a tearjerker. The Marlins players gathered around the mound, all wearing “Fernandez 16” jerseys. A single trumpet played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and a choir later sang the national anthem.
The Marlins and Mets players hugged on the field in a stirring display of mutual respect and appreciation of Fernandez, whose loss was certainly felt on the opposing side. While watching up in the Marlins’ TV booth, Al Leiter (who played in the World Series for both teams) could not help but recall a similar memory from his days in Queens that many Mets fans likely also remembered at this moment.
It was another touching ceremony, this one on September 21, 2001 at Shea Stadium, a little over a week after the devastating events of September 11. In the first major sporting event since the attacks, “Taps” was played, New York firefighters and policemen were honored for the bravery, and the nation attempted to put itself back together. The Braves and Mets were fierce rivals at the team, and the Mets were trying to make a miracle run to stay in the playoff race. That didn’t matter. The two sides embraced on the diamond, with handshakes and hugs aplenty. Chipper Jones, John Smoltz, and the powerhouse Atlanta crew might have normally been enemies in New York, but on this night, only cheers came from the fans watching this gesture.
The parallels between Monday night and September 21, 2001 did not stop there. As almost every Met fan knows, Mike Piazza came up with the Mets trailing in the eighth inning and the steady reliever Steve Karsay on for Atlanta. He brought New York to its feet with a long home run to center field to put the Mets on top and make everyone smile again, even if just for a moment. There were tears, cheers, and almost every emotion imaginable. The Mets closed it out in the ninth to win 3-2 and instantly establish an unforgettable memory. Even the Braves players later admitted that they did not mind falling in this game.
On Monday, the Mets found themselves on the other side of the coin. This time, it did not take until late in the game for the baseball gods’ magical moment. Starting in place of Fernandez, Adam Conley worked a perfect inning, and Dee Gordon stepped to the plate to lead off the game for the Marlins. Gordon was extremely close with Fernandez and his heartbreak was quite evident, from his reactions at Marlins Park on Sunday to the Instagram post he later made in Fernandez’s memory.
The lefty-swinging Gordon started the plate appearance against Bartolo Colon in the right-handed batter’s box, a tribute to the righty Fernandez. He took a pitch and then moved back to his normal spot. No one was thinking home run. After all, Gordon had not hit one out in 323 plate appearances all year and only had eight dingers in almost 2,300 plate appearances over his career. Even Eric Campbell had better odds of going deep.
Yet that’s exactly what happened. Gordon crushed Colon’s pitch into the second deck and rounded the bases in tears. Giancarlo Stanton embraced him near the on-deck circle. The dugout mobbed him. The crowd went wild. Fans watching from around the globe found their rooms to be a little dusty as well. Just like Piazza’s blast in 2001, this was a moment bigger than the game, just as the Mets’ own Twitter account said after the ball sailed over the fence.
The Braves couldn’t be too mad after Piazza’s homer, and neither could the Mets after Gordon’s homer. It was simply another example of baseball’s remarkable healing power, and it was absolutely beautiful to see.
Just this one time, Mets fans could still crack a smile after the other team scored. In this special case, they understood the feeling.
Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports