Jose Fernandez was toying with perfection.
He was methodically crossing off Diamondbacks batter by batter, inning after inning. Fernandez retired the first 17 batters he faced, and he couldn’t avoid the thought of making it continue to the final out.
“I was thinking about it,” Fernandez said. “Everybody was thinking about it, I think.”
Said manager Don Mattingly: “He was cruising.”
And then it all collapsed on a seismic sixth inning in which he lost everything -- the perfect game, the no-hitter, a Marlins record nine straight victory and, most significantly, the game itself.
Fernandez self-destructed in the Marlins’ 5-3 loss to Arizona.
He was one out away from making it through the sixth without allowing a base runner when Michael Bourn put an end to the drama with a solo home run to right. Bourn’s shot -- his first since the 2014 season -- set off an avalanche.
Jean Segura singled. Jake Lamb doubled. Paul Goldschmidt singled. David Peralta tripled. Fernandez went from perfection to giving up a team cycle in an eye blink.
“It just kind of came apart there,” Mattingly said. “Usually, with Jose, nothing really bothers him. He just continues on. But it just kind of got away from him there.”
His streak of 23 consecutive scoreless innings was extinguished all at once.
Fernandez finally recorded the third out. But his night was over. He didn’t return to the mound for the seventh after Mattingly went with a pinch-hitter, and the Marlins were unable to recover.
It was Fernandez’s first loss since April 23. His eight-game winning streak -- tied for the longest in Marlins franchise history -- came to an unsatisfying end.
“It’s called baseball,” said Fernandez, who smiled and remained upbeat following the game. “It’s not a big deal. They hit the ball hard a couple of times. They hit some hard ground balls and hard line drives, just right at people. I got lucky.”
The Marlins had given Fernandez a 2-0 lead, and for 5 2/3 innings it looked like Fernandez would do the rest.
“It felt pretty good at that point, with Jose’s pitch count down, and with him on the mound,” Mattingly said. “He’s been pretty dominant.”
But the Diamondbacks came up with four runs in the sixth, all with two outs, and added another in the seventh on Chris Hermann’s home run off Mike Dunn.
Marcell Ozuna homered off Daniel Hudson in the eighth to make it 5-3. But that was as close as the Marlins would get. They were 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
For Fernandez, sweet turned to sour quickly.
After notching his eighth strikeout with his whiff of Nick Ahmed to start the sixth, he got Arizona starter Zack Godley to bounce a grounder behind the bag at first.
Justin Bour fumbled the ball, but picked it up and threw to Fernandez covering first for the second out. The perfect game was still in play. But his 1-0 fastball to Bourn caught the fat of the plate, and the ball caught the barrel of Bourn’s bat.
Bourn’s last home run had come on July 5, 2014 -- a 594 at-bat spell without one.
“That’s the funny thing about baseball, that anybody at any point can do damage,” Fernandez said. “That’s the beauty of (baseball). You’ve got to stay on your toes all the time.”