Before Jose Fernandez got into his car and drove to Marlins Park on Thursday morning to make his first start for the Marlins in nearly 14 months, his grandmother Olga grabbed him by the shoulder and asked a favor.
“Hit me a home run,” Fernandez said she asked.
It was hardly the request the 22-year-old Cuban right-hander expected.
But he delivered.
His towering, 396-foot leadoff home run to left field off Matt Cain in the fifth inning sparked a four-run uprising as the Marlins rallied to beat the San Francisco Giants 5-4 and sweep their first series since late April in front of 32,598 fans on “Jose Day” at Marlins Park.
After Fernandez took pleasure rounding the bases on his second career home run, Justin Bour, Wednesday night’s walk-off hero, slugged his second three-run homer in less than 24 hours to put the Marlins (34-46) in front of the defending World Series champions for good.
Fernandez, meanwhile, went six innings to pick up the win, improving to 13-0 in 21 career starts at Marlins Park and tying a modern-day record for most starts at home without a loss, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Although the Giants (42-38) tagged Fernandez for three earned runs and seven hits — career highs for Fernandez in home starts — he didn’t walk a batter and struck out six.
More importantly, he showed no ill-effects post-surgery. With his mother and grandmother sitting near the Marlins’ dugout cheering him on, Fernandez hit 99 mph on the radar gun in the first inning when he struck out Matt Duffy looking.
In the second inning, he hit 98 mph three times.
His curveball, nicknamed “The Defector,” looked as good as it did before he was injured, manager Dan Jennings said.
Of Fernandez’s 89 pitches, 68 were strikes, including 10 swing and misses, mostly on breaking balls.
“It was exactly what we were hoping we would get,” Jennings said of Fernandez’s start.
Marlins fans, who packed the stands on $1 hot dog day for a 12:10 p.m. start, gave Fernandez a standing ovation as he walked out to the mound, then roared again when he hit his home run off Cain, who was also making his 2015 debut after missing the first three months of the season with a flexor tendon strain.
“I almost teared up before I threw the first pitch,” Fernandez said. “That’s why it took me a little while [to settle in].”
The Giants were on him early. Gregor Blanco singled to center to open the game before Joe Panik doubled down the left-field line. Two batters later, Buster Posey drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly to right, and Brandon Belt plated the next run with a flair to left field.
Jennings said Fernandez was “trying to be too fine, a little perfect.”
After that, though, he settled in. Fernandez retired the side in order in the second and scattered three hits over the next two innings before he made a mistake, leaving a 2-0 pitch up in the zone to Blanco to open the fifth. Blanco crushed it for a home run into the upper deck, putting the Giants up 3-1 before the Marlins rallied in the bottom half of the inning.
Three relievers — Mike Dunn, Carter Capps and closer A.J. Ramos — pitched the final three innings to lock down the victory.
Capps gave up a solo home run to Posey to open the eighth to trim the Marlins’ lead to 5-4. But Capps, who struck out four, got the game’s biggest out an inning earlier when he came in from the bullpen with two runners on and struck out Brandon Crawford to end the frame with Posey on deck.
The Marlins — who have won four of five since Giancarlo Stanton went down with a broken bone in his left hand last Friday — were simply happy to end their nine-game homestand with a victory. Getting it for Fernandez, who now has a 1.23 ERA in 21 career home starts, just made it sweeter.
“He was the old Jose in some facets,” catcher Jeff Mathis said.
“Fastball was up there. The velocity was good. He threw some good sliders at times, and the changeup was pretty good, too — pretty effective. I’m just happy he’s healthy and back with us.”
What will having Fernandez back mean to the rotation? Everything, if you ask Jennings.
“It puts the other starters where they need to be,” Jennings said.
“Right now, he’s not ready to be that true No. 1 in terms of pitches. He’s building to that. But when you have a true No. 1 they affect three days. The day before they pitch you can empty your bullpen, the day they pitch you hope they give you eight or more [innings], and the day after your bullpen should be rested.”
The Marlins are going to rest Fernandez for six days before he makes his next start a week from Thursday when the team returns from a five-game road trip that begins Friday at Chicago’s Wrigley Field and ends with two games at Fenway Park in Boston.
Can he wait that long?
“Right now I wish I could pitch tomorrow,” Fernandez said. “But guys, after 14 months, I think seven days is going to pass by fast.”