MIAMI — To watch the Marlins during Monday’s pregame ceremony for Jose Fernandez was to witness a team in mourning. The pain was obvious. It was etched across every face, beneath a black cap scrawled with various tributes in white.
They had lost Fernandez just 36 hours earlier, the victim of a late night boat crash, along with his two friends, off Miami Beach. So after trying to repair crushed souls and broken hearts in that insufficient stretch of time, the Marlins were supposed to play baseball again? Where was the strength going to come from for that?
“Jose would not want us sitting around, right?” team president David Samson said Monday afternoon. “We have to play today. We’re going to go out and do the best we can as an organization with heavy hearts and with an eye toward what matters most — and that is honoring Jose.”
The Marlins all agreed that’s what had to be done. Win or lose, on the night Fernandez was scheduled to take the mound, they would give the same effort that made him nearly invincible (29-2) at his retractable-roof home. This game was bigger to South Florida than a wild-card race, it had to be. And Fernandez’s teammates were not going to allow their ace’s night to wind up in the ‘L’ column.
They didn’t. At the end of the emotional 7-3 victory over the Mets, the Marlins gathered around the pitcher’s mound, the painted-black No. 16 at their center, and locked arms, shoulder to shoulder. Afterward, they left their caps, along with the game ball. Fernandez’s memory — his smile, his laughter — the Marlins took with them, tucked next to their hearts.
“It will take time, but I think we’ll get through this,” Giancarlo Stanton said. “Strength came from tonight. We dug as deep as we could.”
That became evident almost immediately when Dee Gordon, the lefty leadoff hitter, dug in to face Bartolo Colon from the right side — a hat tip to his fallen friend. After taking the first pitch, Gordon switched to his regular spot, and then walloped the third into the upper deck in rightfield. For those seeking a spiritual connection to Monday’s events, that was Gordon’s first home run this season, a stretch of 303 at-bats.
Somewhere, Fernandez — always the Marlins’ rambunctious cheerleader — must have enjoyed watching that ball fly. “All I can say is that he’s up there in Heaven with all the great players that left before their time: Gehrig, Clemente, Munson,” Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria said before the game. “And sadly Jose.”
Whatever powered Gordon’s swing, the fuel that propelled him around those bases began to leak out as he crossed the plate, his eyes welling up with tears. Gordon rode that emotional burst into the Marlins’ dugout, where he was consoled with hugs as he moved through the comforting black-and-orange embrace. That was the type of night this would be.
Rather than surrender to the grief, to be swallowed up by it, the Marlins used it as an energy source. With Fernandez’s number on every scoreboard, and on the back of every teammate, the Marlins burned with his memory. Colon, perhaps the Mets’ sturdiest pitcher this season, was no match for that intensity.
Colon recovered from Gordon’s inspirational salvo, but the Marlins rolled over him in the second inning with four consecutive hits, including a pair of doubles, and four more runs to take a 5-0 lead. The Marlins looked as if they needed it more. If only to take away the hurt for a few hours.
The Mets provided a sympathetic shoulder for their hurting Miami pals, and on this special night, that was most admirable, even in defeat. After seeing fierce adversaries like Stanton and Marcell Ozuna uncontrollably weeping during parts of the pregame ceremony, the Mets joined the Marlins for a group hug on the infield grass. Regardless of where the Mets wind up at the end of this season, that was a moment to be proud of.
“You never think a few hugs could be that big of a deal,” Stanton said. “But that was huge there. I want to say thank you to them.”