Death Fernandez Boat Sketch Miami

Game 85 // Eighth Inning, Miami // Rest in Peace, Mr. Fernández

Credit to the great Bill Gallo, for inspiration


TOP OF THE EIGHTH: MARLINS 1 – 0 NATIONALS

 

Five days ago, the final game of a career cut short.

Eight innings pitched. Zero runs. Zero walks. Twelve strikeouts.

An audience of 17,961—watching the very best baseball of the Miami Marlins. A home run from Giancarlo Stanton. A shut-out. A win over the first-place Nationals. A José Fernández start, a brilliant one at that.

“José’s into the eighth,” they say as the inning begins, “and he fires a strike.”

 

 

He’s always great, they keep saying, restating in different ways, but he’s especially great tonight. A broadcast crew that’s watched him all year, and they’re sitting there awestruck. Turned back into kids, meeting the kind of hero that stands above all others.

“He’s throwing his fastball for the most part where he wants to tonight,” one of them says. “Stephen Drew doubled in the first, and after that: nobody, nobody has reached base.”

Twenty straight batters, José Fernández has set down. A virtuosic run on the mound. And he starts the eighth inning where he left off in the seventh—a backdoor curveball to an embarrassed Washington National, with Clint Robinson striking out with a massive whiff.

The stadium’s half-empty, maybe double the draw of any other starter’s day. Magical number 16 on the mound. He takes his hat off, flaps it around, runs his hand through his hair, paces around on the infield grass as Michael Taylor comes in to pinch-run after Ramos knocked a single to center. Then Brian Goodwin gets a hit.

Two runners on, one out. A jam, at the tail-end of a masterwork in progress.

And a 1-0 lead just hanging on. 

The pitching coach comes out. Infield in for a meeting. A look to the bullpen. And a call, a confidence vote, a return to each position and the coach back to the dugout.

José Fernández staying in.

He chews his gum, flips the rosin bag around his hands and wrists. And sets up for the finishing touches on a gem.

“Whatever José’s got in the tank,” they say on the broadcast, “it’s time to unload it here.”

The infield creeps back on their heels, in hopes of a double play. The camera zooms in through a chainlink fence from left field, to the mound, to José Fernández. Chewing with his mouth open, jaw locked, concentrated, dialed in, fueled up. Blowing a pink bubble, wiping his forehead with his sleeve. Danny Espinosa into the batter’s box.

Fernández whips a fastball home, flashing 96 on the speed gun. And a pitch later, Espinosa whiffs, strikes out, fooled on a changeup low and away—the laces spinning horizontal as the ball sinks just out of the zone. A swing, a miss, the second out of the inning, for José Fernández.

 

 

Twelve strikeouts on the day. The Nationals turned inside out—red-faced and lost and confused.

And then, from the on-deck circle steps the unbeatable one. The National League’s best hitter. The MVP-contender, the biggest threat in a threat-heavy lineup. Setting up for an at-bat with two runners still on, the Miami lead only one.

Daniel Murphy.

Wagging his bat as he digs in, sets up, knees bent, peering out at the mound. A battle, the final boss in a testing of will, a sight that shoots pangs of nerves through every bit of the crowd. The final batter of the eighth, the final batter of the start, the final batter of a great great great great great great career.

Murphy takes a strike, he takes a ball. Fouls off a pitch. 1-2 count.

Maritza Fernández is on her feet, José’s mother, clapping wildly, cheering, smiling. The crowd gets up behind her. Loud. Hopeful. Nervous. Fernández breaks and steps off the mound. Steps back on. Murphy waggles his bat in the zone as he prepares. Fernández winds up, his orange glove pointed at the plate, his arm unfurls, whips toward home, shoots a sinker through the lit-up Miami air. The final piece to a brilliant start, to a shut-out, to a building case for a Cy Young season.

And it’s a broken-bat groundout to Gordon at second base. Thrown over to Rojas. Daniel Murphy out, the half-inning over.

José Fernández smirks, smiles, covered in dirt and sweaty, striding off the mound—a slight shake to his head, as if he could’ve done even better, as if a near-perfect start was so far short of what he can do.

Smiles and cheers and joy, in every direction. He points up to his mother, his family, blows a kiss to the group.

He shakes off the mask of baseball focus, turns back into a boy, turns to the crowd, waves and smiles and walks back in.

 

 

In the Marlins’ dugout, Don Mattingly gives a hug, the deep hug of a man with no better joy than this, a grateful witness to a master. Appreciation all around. Barry Bonds grabs him by the neck, shakes him around the head, bear-hugging like two best friends reunited. A sort of full-nelson hold from the front, a tease for coming one inning short of the complete game. A huge kiss on the cheek.

“Barry was just beyond excited,” they say. “A masterpiece, by José Fernández!!”

 

 

He sits on a stool after the game, the one-run lead having lasted for the win, sitting outside the dugout, the focus of a team full of energy, fist-bumping every teammate. High-fiving and doling out hugs as a reporter waits by his side for an interview.

The images of a talent so rare everyone knows it. The sounds, the pitches, the strikeouts, the shut-outs, the wins, the history—of a José Fernández striding off the mound, proud and elated, exhausted, beloved.

The images of a legend.

“Everybody has come over and embraced José,” they say on the broadcast. “When he got to the dugout, it was a veritable mosh pit.”

A moment of baseball beauty.

Five days later: September the 25th, 2016. A sadness for which there are no suitable words.

A sad, tragically sad, baseball day.

 

May you rest in peace, Mr. Amazing.

 

 

 

 

Previously:

Inning 54: Ichiro the Great

Inning 20: Stanton Defeats Kershaw

 

 

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