The first time I saw José Fernández was when he already had five consecutive wins in the Marlins Park, and a total of eight in his career in Major League Baseball. I had been told about him: about an incredible slider, about his authoritarian straight ball, about phlegm, character and those other words used when people try not to mention balls.
It was a game against Puig’s Dodgers, which that year looked difficult with the pitchers. Caballo Loco was going crazy, batting left and right: it was so much so that his OPS stood at around more than 1,000 points. But he couldn’t have fun with Fernández. That night, the Cuban from Santa Clara limited the one from Cienfuegos to two outs, a rolling to the short, a foul fly and a high ball to the middle. I remember as if it were right now that I celebrated during all the way home the work of that white rookie.
Starting that August game I started a systematic follow-up of Fernández. As I could, I monitored each time the kid came out to pitch, and I was one of the many hearts that 90 miles away sent him all the positive vibes of the world so he would make the record. That is, so that he would become the only pitcher in the MLB to have won his first 17 wins as a local.
He was able to do it against Atlanta, when he was about to finish the 2015 campaign. They entered with a rally of four, but his team overcame and he was able to stick to the box until he did the five necessary entries. The final score, 12×11, gives an idea of the fight on the diamond, but not about the happiness I felt when Ryan Lavarnway had to take the final strikeout.
He was very talented and above all, what’s most important, had a lot of class (because you can own a Ferrari and not look as if it suits you when behind the wheel). An anecdote gives a full picture of the man who inhabited the player….
It occurred in 2013, the same season that won him the Rookie of the Year ahead of Yasiel Puig himself. Fernández, who was no “out” with the bat, hit a bambinazo that he wrongly celebrated before the Braves. That is, he stayed in home enjoying Rawlings’ trip, and spit while passing though third base, and crossed some words with Brian McCann in home plate. Then the teams feverishly came out on the field, and the storm almost broke out. At the end of the game, with his head bowed and thinking coldly, the Cuban went to the opponents’ dugout and said to McCann that he was sorry. “I’m sorry. I’m ashamed and it won’t happen again,” they say he said.
Because of things like this I had to open a space for him in my pantheon. I regretted the ailment that took him to the operating table, and I missed him from May 2014 to July 2015. During that time, seeing the rest and remembering Fernández, I understood that only Clayton Kershaw could rejoice me the same way for six or seven innings. He was an ace, and this year he proved he wanted to be Number 1.
Sixteen victories with a team of little guarantees. A 2.86 earned run average. The best strikeout average per every nine innings: 12.49! For life, with some 500 innings to his name, 2.58 clean ones per game. Simply a custom-made pitcher according to the measure of Cy Young, of the All-Star Games, of the Hall of Fame.
However, Fernández will not be able carry out those feats. The news coming from the United States speaks of a boat, a crash, three dead, one of them born on July 31, 1992 in Santa Clara. The sea, the same opponent that he challenged on the furtive raft of his adolescence, had taken him out of the way.
Life is always more complicated than the mound and in the game of survival Fernández has exploded in the first episodes. But the public, who knows and respects, has stood up and applauded his early walk to the eternal dugout.
A great has passed away: let Miami take away the “16”….