Jose Fernandez lived up to the hype. The Marlins lived down to their reputation.
The ballyhooed rookie’s debut was one of the best ever by a pitcher of his age, but the Marlins squandered the outing by losing 4-3 to the New York Mets on Marlon Byrd’s walk-off hit in the ninth.
Fernandez “deserved to win that game,” said manager Mike Redmond.
The 20-year-old right-hander made it look easy, retiring the first 10 batters he faced and striking out eight in only five innings.
Asked if anything about the experience came as a surprise to him, Fernandez replied: “I really thought [the feeling] was going to be a lot bigger, like the first inning I was going to be a little nervous. I felt like I was pitching in spring training.”
Fernandez said the only time he felt nervous was after he left the game and watched innings six through nine from the bench. Fernandez turned a 3-1 lead over to the bullpen, only to see it go down the drain.
A.J. Ramos gave up a home run to Daniel Murphy in the sixth that made it 3-2 before closer Steve Cishek lost it in the ninth on Byrd’s two-run single with one out.
“This is all on me,” Cishek said. “I’m really disappointed.”
It wasn’t all the bullpen’s fault. The Marlins collected 13 hits — 10 off Mets starter Aaron Laffey — but managed only three runs. They stranded 12 and were 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
Fernandez did his part, at least.
He needed only eight pitches to breeze through the first inning, recording three outs on three fly balls. He struck out the side in the second, and two batters in each the fourth and fifth innings. He caught Ike Davis looking at a called third strike. Same with David Wright.
His fastball was touching 95 mph with consistency and he was throwing all his pitches for strikes, buckling Mets knees with his curve.
Since 1916, only six other pitchers under the age of 21 have struck out at least eight batters while making their debuts, according to baseball-reference.com. Fernandez is the first to do it since the Texas Rangers’ David Clyde in 1973. Clyde was a Texas high school legend who went directly to the majors without spending a day in the minors.
Fernandez didn’t spend a whole lot of time there himself. He appeared in only 27 minor-league games since the Marlins took him with the 14th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Fernandez retired the first 10 batters he faced on Sunday before Daniel Murphy singled in the fourth.
The Mets finally got to him for a run in the fifth. But that was it.
Because the Marlins are being extra cautious with Fernandez, establishing an innings cap on the season of anywhere from 150 to 170 innings, he was pulled after the fifth.
He totaled 80 pitches, 53 for strikes.
“Phenomenal,” said Marlins first baseman Greg Dobbs. “He was really composed, says a lot about him at this stage.”
Dobbs said what few Mets hitters reached first (there were only three) all commented on Fernandez.
“They all said he’s got really good stuff,” Dobbs said.
Still, in the end, it all amounted to a loss.
Cishek grazed the front of Ruben Tejada’s jersey with an inside pitch that put the first runner aboard for the Mets in the ninth. He then gave up a single to pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis that Juan Pierre fielded in left.
But Pierre allowed Nieuwenhuis to go to second with an ill-advised throw to third that was late in arriving and off target. That left Mets at second and third for Byrd, who ripped a line-hugging single to left that scored both and gave New York the victory.