Jose Fernandez swung and missed at the first pitch Clayton Kershaw threw his way on Friday night but connected on the second, sending a scorching line drive back up the middle that nearly beheaded the Dodgers’ three-time Cy Young winner.
When he reached first base, the Marlins’ ace flexed his right arm as he looked back at his teammates in the dugout.
No, Kershaw wasn’t at his physical best, coming off a back injury and lasting just three innings in his first start since June 26. But Fernandez — in the midst of one of the roughest stretches of his career — was on top of his game.
He pitched seven shutout innings and struck out a career-high-tying 14 batters, and the barely-still-in-the-playoff-hunt Marlins hung on to beat Los Angeles 4-1 at Marlins Park.
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“We all know the name. We all know who Kershaw is, how good he is,” said Fernandez, who came into Friday’s game 1-4 with a 4.54 ERA over his previous seven starts.
“Games like this you just want to go out there and compete and give everything you have not only because you’re facing one of the best pitchers in baseball and one of the best lineups in baseball, but because your team believes in you and they expect you to do your job the right way.”
Fernandez certainly did, but the Marlins still needed former closer A.J. Ramos to come in late and save the day for Fernando Rodney.
After former Miami Hurricane and Miami Springs High standout Yasmani Grandal homered off Rodney to open the ninth, the next two Dodgers batters singled and Marlins manager Don Mattingly used the hook.
With runners on second and third, Ramos struck out Chase Utley to end the game, collecting his 33rd save of the season and first since Aug. 5.
Losers of 12 of their previous 16 games coming in, the Marlins (70-71) remained five games behind the Mets for the second wild-card spot in the National League with only 21 games to go. New York rallied to win 6-4 in Atlanta on Friday.
It’s clear the Marlins don’t have much room for mistakes if they want to have any shot of making the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
“You’re no longer talking about winning the series,” Mattingly said before the game. “You’re talking about winning every night.”
Catcher J.T. Realmuto put the Marlins ahead 1-0 when he belted Kershaw’s sixth pitch of the game to left for his 10th home run of the season. An inning later, Jeff Francoeur doubled and scored to make it 2-0 when Chris Johnson singled to center.
The Marlins tacked on two runs in the fifth when Christian Yelich laid down an RBI bunt single with two outs and Ichiro Suzuki was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
“That’s him,” Mattingly said of Yelich’s decision to bunt with runners on the corners and two outs. “Somebody said a squeeze or something, a two-out squeeze. I never heard that. But it’s on his own. He sees the guy back, and I’m not sure he wanted to go that soft. He probably wanted to go firmer where there would be a no play at all. Grandal made a nice play there almost getting him.”
Those four runs were more than enough for Fernandez, who walked three, gave up three hits and really only encountered trouble in the first two innings. But he did what he had to do to survive that.
Fernandez struck out Grandal with runners on first and third to get out of the first inning and got Utley to bounce out to short with runners on second and third to end the second.
Fernandez said he wanted to go back out to pitch the eighth, but Mattingly wouldn’t let him. He threw 102 pitches, 15 shy of his season high. Still, it was a nice way for Fernandez to bounce back after giving up a season-high 12 hits and six earned runs in a Sept. 3 loss in Cleveland.
“I think J.T. had a really good game plan,” Fernandez said. “I studied the hitters as best as I could. [Pitching coach] Juan Nieves put a great plan together. And our team played great. We all know how big every game is and how important they are. I think it’s a big win for us, and I think everybody in here is happy.”
Kershaw pitched only three innings and needed 66 pitches to get through it.
Friday’s pitching matchup was still pretty special. Kershaw, who had a career 2.39 ERA coming in, and Fernandez, with a career 2.62 ERA, ranked first and second in career ERA among starting pitchers with at least 50 starts dating to 1920. It was also the first time they had ever pitched against each other.
▪ Fernandez has 238 strikeouts on the season, second only to Washington’s Max Scherzer (243). Scherzer has made two more starts than Fernandez.
▪ The Marlins have now won five in a row against the Dodgers. The Marlins were the first team to beat Kershaw back on April 26, the second game of Miami’s four-game sweep in Los Angeles, posting a season-high five earned runs against him over seven innings.
▪ Realmuto has feasted on Dodgers pitching throughout his career. He came into Friday’s game batting .438 (14 for 32) versus L.A. and now has a hit in all 10 games he’s faced the Dodgers.