The front of his gray pants were soiled with infield dirt. The shirttail on his black jersey became untucked.
Jose Fernandez looked a mess.
But like a champion boxer who can take a staggering punch and give one back, Fernandez never caved in to the Atlanta Braves in one of his grittiest outings of an outstanding rookie season.
The record will show that Fernandez took the loss as a two-run homer by Freddie Freeman in the first held up in a 2-1 Atlanta win. But Fernandez stood tall at Turner Field, where he did everything in his power to end the Marlins’ losing ways.
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“That was a tough one,” Fernandez said afterward.
Said manager Mike Redmond: “I thought he gave us everything he had tonight.”
It was his triple which set up the Marlins’ only run, a gapper into right-center in which he huffed and puffed his way around the bases before sliding headfirst into third and just beating the tag. Redmond scolded him for not sliding feet first.
“That’s the way I play the game,” Fernandez said. “I know it’s not smart. One play and I could end my career. That’s something I can’t let happen again.”
On the mound, though, was where he battled like he has never battled before.
The fourth inning alone was a gut-busting slugfest. Freeman, who burned him with a first-pitch home run in the first, doubled on another first-pitch offering to open the inning. Fernandez looked at Freeman and smiled.
“I told Freeman, ‘How can I get you out?’ and he starts laughing,” Fernandez said.
After retiring Chris Johnson on a foul pop, Fernandez and Braves catcher Brian McCann faced off in a grueling 14-pitch at-bat in which neither player would yield, and McCann fouled off nine pitches before Fernandez finally put him away for the strikeout. That confrontation appeared to fatigue Fernandez, who walked Dan Uggla intentionally and lost B.J. Upton on another walk before Andrelton Simmons grounded out to end the 30-pitch inning.
Fernandez set the Marlins’ rookie record for strikeouts when he struck out two in the first, giving him 167 — one more than the number tallied by Scott Olsen in 2006.
Fernandez was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the seventh. His final pitching line: six innings, three hits, two earned runs, two walks and eight strikeouts. The question now becomes when Fernandez pitches next — in Chicago next week or at home — and whether he has one or two starts remaining before the Marlins shut him down for the season to preserve his young arm for the future.
Fernandez moved closer to the 170-inning limit the Marlins have established for him. With Friday’s outing, he has now totaled 158 2/3 innings.
It was yet another dismal night offensively for the Marlins.
After Fernandez scored on Christian Yelich’s RBI single, the Marlins managed to load the bases against Braves starter Julio Teheran but couldn’t come up with the big hit. Placido Polanco lined to center with the bases loaded to end the threat. The Marlins have now scored two runs or fewer in 65 games and have so far managed to score just five runs in the first four games of the road trip. They have lost nine of their past 10 games.
Giancarlo Stanton reached on a bloop single to open the eighth but made a questionable decision by tagging on a fly ball hit to deep right. Jordan Schafer threw him out from the warning track.
Ahead of his time
Frank Pulli, the former major league umpire who stepped outside the rules by turning to instant replay to settle a disputed call in a memorable 1999 Marlins game, has died at the age of 78.
“You know what? He was ahead of his time,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was on the Marlins’ coaching staff at the time.
Controversy erupted in the May 31, 1999, game at Pro Player Stadium when Cliff Floyd hit a ball off the wall in left. It was first ruled to be a double, changed to a home run, and eventually changed back to a double after Pulli decided to look at a replay -- nine years before replay reviews were permitted.
Because Marlins manager John Boles was out after undergoing back surgery, Gonzalez was designated to fill in for a few days and became embroiled in the controversy. He ended up protesting the game.
“I remember the way Frank Pulli handled it when I lodged the protest,” Gonzalez said. “He was a total gentleman. He said, ‘Sure, no problem. You can do that.’”
The Marlins lost the protest, but the league admonished Pulli and issued a directive that prohibited future use of replay until it was incorporated into the rules in 2008.
: Marlins RHP Jacob Turner (3-5, 3.12 ERA) at Atlanta Braves LHP Mike Minor (13-5, 2.99), 7:10 p.m., Turner Field.
Sunday: Marlins RHP Nathan Eovaldi (2-5, 3.76) at Braves LHP Alex Wood (3-2, 2.27), 5:05 p.m., Turner Field.
: Turner has never won a game on the road despite a respectable ERA of 3.57 in opposing ballparks. Turner’s road record is 0-7.