The Cardinals returned to South Florida on Friday for the first time since breaking camp in April, bringing the best record in the major leagues with them.
Although St. Louis shares a spring facility in Jupiter with the Marlins, both teams went their separate ways when the games started to count. One went north, the other south — literally and figuratively.
On Friday, however, the last-place Marlins were as good as the best team in the game as Miami beat St. Louis 5-4 at Marlins Park.
“It feels good to win. We have a lot of guys back and our lineup looks well,” reliever Steve Cishek said. “We’re here to win no matter who is in front of us. We’re going to play as hard as we can.’’
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For the Marlins to have success against the red-hot Cardinals, Miami got a strong performance from rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez, timely hits and a quality job from the bullpen.
Fernandez not only pitched seven strong innings (he struck out a career-high 10, but to be fair, his career consists of just 13 games) and drove in a run in the second inning.
“I keep getting lucky, man,” he said, laughing.
Miami’s biggest hits Friday were Fernandez’s chopper up the middle to make it 2-2, a fourth-inning double from Greg Dobbs for Miami’s first lead and Giancarlo Stanton’s double to the center-field sculpture to bring in a pair in the fifth.
Other than those hits, the night belonged to Fernandez and a Marlins bullpen that bent but didn’t break.
Fernandez, who threw 107 pitches, was pulled after putting the Cardinals down in order in the seventh.
Miami brought in Chad Qualls for the eighth with Matt Holliday singling to lead things off. Holliday scored to make it 5-4 on David Freese’s double to left with two outs.
Mike Dunn came in and struck out former University of Miami outfielder Jon Jay to end the threat.
“Big out right there,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.
In the ninth, Cishek came on in his closer role and shut the Cardinals down.
Cishek, now with seven consecutive scoreless appearances at Marlins Park, got Daniel Descalso to ground out, struck out Matt Adams and ended the night by getting Matt Carpenter to ground out to first.
“We had things set up exactly how we wanted them,” Redmond said. “Cishek has come in and done a great job against lefties, something he’s been working on.”
Fernandez, the bright spot of Miami’s dismal season, gave the Marlins another quality outing Friday.
Since being rocked in St. Petersburg by his neighborhood Rays (Fernandez was born in Cuba but went to high school in Tampa), he has been strong and given the Marlins a chance to win.
In his past three starts, Fernandez has gone at least six innings, and he has given up a total of four runs in those starts.
“We all know what kind of team the Cardinals are, one through nine,” Fernandez said. “I was just trying to make good pitches. I was trying to locate them pretty good.
“In the first, maybe I was trying to do a little bit too much.”
The Cardinals took a quick lead, going up 2-0 with just one out in the first inning. St. Louis was helped by an error by Ed Lucas at third, one that allowed Holliday to reach and Carpenter to move to second.
Allen Craig then singled in a run, and Yadier Molina’s soft single to right brought Carpenter home. Hernandez didn’t buckle. The Marlins picked up two runs in the second — one from Fernandez’s single — and took the lead for good in the fourth.
“He set the tone against a great team,” Redmond said.
“It was fun to watch. He can pitch. We’ve seen him do it.”