As far as All-Star debuts go, there aren’t many pitchers in the history of the game who put on the type of show Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez did Tuesday night at Citi Field in the American League’s 3-0 victory.
In fact, only two others did — Dwight Gooden and Bob Feller. That’s the company the 20-year-old Cuban defector joined in the sixth inning when he sandwiched strikeouts of former MVP Dustin Pedroia and current major-league home run leader Chris Davis around getting Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera to pop out.
Gooden and Feller, two of the top 50 strikeout kings in the history of the game, are the only other players to manage to do that before their 21st birthday.
“Dangerous group of hitters there,” Fernandez posted on his Twitter account moments after exiting the game. “I felt like I was going to throw 110.”
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Fernandez, who wore bright orange shoes with his Twitter handle on them, didn’t hit 110 on the radar gun. But he came close.
On the big stage just a few months after he was surprised to make the jump from Single A to the big league team on Opening Day, he hit 98 mph three times on the radar gun against Cabrera, a former Marlin. His strikeouts came on a 96-mph two-seamer at the knees against Pedroia and then a nasty curveball against Davis, who has slugged 37 homers this season.
In all, only five pitchers have made an All-Star appearance before their 21st birthday. Fernando Valenzuela and Jerry Walker are the others.
“It’s an honor to be mentioned with those guys,” Fernandez said.
Earlier in the day, Fernandez reached into his locker Tuesday afternoon at Citi Field and pulled out a white Marlins jersey to show a friend.
This wasn’t any ordinary jersey, though. It had the autographs of every All-Star in the National League clubhouse on the back of it, a special keepsake the 20-year old rookie said he planned on putting in a frame and on a wall up in his house.
“I got a bat autographed, too,” Fernandez said with a smile on his face. “It’s been amazing just to be here talking to all these guys.”
The second-youngest player and the only rookie at this year’s All-Star Game, Fernandez spent his first 48 hours in New York busy conducting interviews in both English and Spanish, and signing tons and tons of autographs himself.
“It’s been crazy — nothing but signing and talking, signing and talking — a lot of stuff to sign,” Fernandez said. “But I’m not complaining. I’m thrilled to be here.’’
Fernandez, the youngest Cuban-born player in baseball history to earn an All-Star nod, said he had a great time Monday catching up with fellow Cuban defectors Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes. They stayed on the field talking even after the National League had already completed its pregame workout.
Fernandez said he didn’t know either until this trip to New York, but he had heard about their big-time talent while he was growing up in Cuba. Their stories of defection, though, weren’t nearly as harrowing as his.
Chapman, 25, and now a two-time All-Star for the Reds, walked out on the Cuban National Team during a tournament in the Netherlands in 2009. Cespedes, who received a special invite to the All-Star Game for the Home Run Derby and edged out Bryce Harper to win it Monday night, fled Cuba with his family for the Dominican Republic in 2011. He’s now 27.
Fernandez was 15 when he jumped into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to save his mother during his fourth and final attempt to escape to the United States. Before that, he spent months in prison next to murderers, locked up because he sought a better life and tried to leave a communist country.
“We talked like we’ve known each other for 10 years,” said Fernandez, who cheered on Cespedes during the derby.
“A lot of guys were impressed by the way Cespedes hit the ball last night. He was hitting them like nothing, like he was in a Little League park. I really enjoyed it. [Cubans] just love the game, respect it and play hard.”
Fernandez, who brought his mother with him on his All-Star trip, said the first thing he plans to do when he gets back to Miami is call his grandmother in Cuba to share his experience. She was listening to the game on radio on the roof of her home.
After Tuesday night, though, the focus will return to the Marlins. Just the third Marlins rookie to make the NL All-Star team (joining Dontrelle Willis and second baseman Dan Uggla), Fernandez said he expects big things from his team in the second half of the season.
Three-time All-Star and ESPN commentator Rick Sutcliffe told Fernandez before Tuesday’s game he was a big fan of his but was disappointed he probably wouldn’t get to broadcast one of his games because the Marlins are a last-place team. Fernandez politely shook his head and smiled.
“People can think what they want, but I think we’re going to play even better in the second half,’’ Fernandez said. “It’s a different energy. We’re hitting the ball well. There isn’t a game we play now where we don’t think we can win.’’