After teams of youth baseball players from around the hemisphere paraded around the Marlins Park field, a couple of major-league rookies — the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez and the Pirates’ Gerrit Cole — played king of the hill for a couple of hours.
Fernandez struck out a Marlins rookie record 13 batters and walked none. Cole struck out eight and walked two. Fernandez threw 74 strikes in 97 pitches. Cole threw 66 strikes in 95 pitches. Fernandez gave up five hits in eight innings. Cole gave up four hits in seven innings.
But that fourth hit off Cole rocketed off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton and hit the Home Run Sculpture, bringing it to life and giving the Marlins a lead that Fernandez and reliever Steve Cishek would not relinquish en route to a 3-2 win.
The Marlins took two of three from the first-place Pirates this weekend with brilliant young pitching: Friday’s shutout started by Henderson Alvarez and Sunday’s smoke show by Fernandez.
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From the top step of the dugout, Fernandez (7-5) tipped his hat to the fans as the crowd, announced at 24,207, applauded the big screen that announced his 13 strikeouts were his high for the season.
“Early on in the game, I think he was aggressive and came out throwing 99 in the first and that was impressive,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “This was kind of a statement game for him. He knew he was going up against another solid pitcher and he wanted to outdo him.”
Sunday’s duel met the matchup potential on paper. Cole (5-4), the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 draft, came in having allowed three runs or less in his eight career starts. Fernandez, taken 14th overall in 2011, has gone 6-5 for an offensively challenged Marlins team.
Stanton said, “When you make other guys look silly up there, it’s almost like they don’t want to get in the box their second and third time up, it’s fun to watch.”
Though Fernandez opened the game by striking out Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte for the first of three times, he truly established the rhythm of the day from the third through the sixth innings.
He faced 13 batters, struck out 10 and got two of the other three batters on groundouts to second. He struck out the side in the third and the fifth as his fastball, slider and changeup formed a Bermuda Triangle of pitches into which Pittsburgh’s offense disappeared.
After Fernandez dropped a low curve on Cole for a called third strike in the fifth, the Pittsburgh pitcher leaned back with the look of a guy searching for fairness in a cruel world.
Not that Cole got mussed much by the Marlins. Aside from Stanton, who doubled down the left-field line in the first inning, the Marlins managed only singles from Logan Morrison and Ed Lucas in the fourth. Morrison’s and Lucas’ hits followed a Stanton walk. Along with a deep flyout by Donovan Solano, that stew of hits provided two runs, evening the score 2-2.
“He throws hard, mixes up speeds, utilizes his cutter a lot,” Stanton said of Cole.
Meanwhile, Fernandez got into a groove after allowing two runs on a Pedro Alvarez single, a Russell Martin double and a Clint Barnes single in the second inning.
“They just jumped on some heaters. He left some balls over the plate and they did a good job getting the bat on them,” Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis said. “You can always kick yourself in the butt any time a hit’s given up. Maybe wish I’d have mixed it up a little earlier.”
Stanton’s home run came on a first-pitch fastball. By the eighth inning, the only question was, would Fernandez get his first complete game? Redmond knew it was “a second-guesser’s dream,” and felt Fernandez probably could have finished the game.
Fernandez said he came into the dugout and said to Redmond, “I’m going out [for the ninth]. He said, ‘We’ll see.’ I went to sit down and, in my mind, I was ready to go out for the ninth. They decided not to let me. I went and told him, ‘I know what you’re doing, so it’s fine.’ ”
He jokingly faked sneaking onto the field as Cishek ran in from the bullpen. Cishek got save No. 22 after allowing a Neil Walker single and walking Martin with two outs.
“It took me awhile to decide,” Redmond said. “[Pitching coach] Chuck Hernandez and I talked and it made sense. Today we developed two guys. We developed a pitcher and we developed a closer. Where we’re at as a team and an organization, I’ll take that.”