Give Jose Fernandez credit. The kid knows how to fashion a dramatic exit.
He won yet another game Wednesday night, hit a long home run, and then starred in a bench-clearing brouhaha that had the Marlins Park crowd on its feet and roaring like it hadn’t all season long.
This was Fernandez’s last start of the year because the Marlins are treating their thoroughbred with caution and care, and he ended his seven innings’ work with a strikeout (of course), slowly walking off the mound to soak in a pulsing, swooning standing ovation from an adoring crowd of 25,111.
I’m not sure how legends are born or how mortal men somehow materialize as folk heroes, but Fernandez’s Wednesday night would constitute a pretty fair start.
But the drama was just starting.
Afterward old-school manager Mike Redmond blasted his young pitcher for disrespecting the opponent with his delayed home run trot and his spit in the direction of the Atlanta Braves’ third baseman. And Fernandez was left to call himself “embarrassed, like I don’t deserve to be here.”
The mea culpa from the Miami side was almost comical in its somber excess.
“I’m not happy. It really ruined the night for me,” said Redmond.
And Fernandez — you’d have thought he had committed felonious assault or high treason.
The problem with the Marlins’ postgame reaction is it overshadowed not only the night but the rookie season Fernandez has had, and that wasn’t right. The kid is 21 years old. His learning isn’t finished. He let emotion get in his way in his final start. That’s it.
Better to focus on this:
Jose has barely finished waving goodbye and I miss him already. The last good reason to watch the Marlins in 2013 left us hungry for more.
He departs with a 12-6 record after Wednesday’s 5-2 victory over the Braves — despite a last-place team. He ends with 187 strikeouts in 172 innings, with a 2.19 ERA, and with a terrific case for National League Rookie of the Year.
And he leaves us with the lasting image of a not fully matured young pitcher who not only buckles batters’ knees but brings as much competitive fire as skills.
He paused a bit too long to admire his own home run before he began his trot, yes — “I walked for three steps and I thought, ‘What am I doing!?’ ” he admitted — and appeared to spit in the direction of third baseman Chris Johnson’s feet as he headed for home. Braves catcher Brian McCann admonished Fernandez as he crossed the plate, but not angrily.
“He just said, ‘Buddy you can’t do that,’ ” Fernandez said. “Talking to me as a dad teaching a kid.”
Still, benches emptied, with no punches thrown but some seriously macho posturing.
When it ended Fernandez strode with shoulders squared. He might have breached an unwritten baseball rule or two, but the fans loved it. The pushed around Marlins were pushing back. A dismal season found a little swagger and spine.
And Jose Fernandez was why.
The kid was not at his best Wednesday and still dominated, a mark of greatness.
My mind cast back, but selectively, because the company must be rare.
It was 1983, and a curly haired quarterback out of Pitt named Dan Marino was about to change everything.