MIAMI — Jose Fernandez stood in full uniform at his locker as a postgame media session was winding down.
He looked up over three reporters and smiled. TVs hanging in the middle of the Miami Marlins locker room were showing the final pitches of Fernandez strikeouts on Friday night.
“You don’t have to watch that. You just did it,” someone said.
“I want to see,” Fernandez said without removing either his focus from the TVs or the slight grin on his face.
Who could blame him? In Miami’s 5-4 victory against St. Louis, Fernandez became the first pitcher under 21 to strike out 10 since Seattle’s Felix Hernandez did it in 2007.
Early on, it seemed the right-hander might not be around long enough to set a career-high in strikeouts. The Cardinals led 2-0 five batters into the game.
Fernandez then struck out David Freese and retired John Jay to end the inning with St. Louis runners on first and third.
“His competitiveness comes out,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said of his young hurler. “I think in his mind he goes, ‘That’s it — they’re not getting any more runs.’
“He has the ability to make and execute pitches like only a handful of guys I think I’ve ever seen. He gives up a few hits and he says, ‘Hey, that’s it.'”
Fernandez, 20, said he has had that competitive fire since he began playing in his native Cuba.
“I’ve always had that — I compete my butt off,” he said. “That’s one of the things that makes me good, because I compete. It doesn’t matter who I’m facing. It could be the best hitter in the world or it could be my mom. In the game, I’m going to try and get them out.”
Or it could be someone Fernandez looked up to, such as Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
“The first time I went up to hit (in the second inning), Molina was catching,” Fernandez said. “I looked up to that guy. When they won the World Series, I said, ‘Man, I wish one day I could shake his hand.’
“I told him, ‘It’s a pleasure to be playing against you.’ And he said, ‘No, it’s my pleasure.'”
Perhaps Molina thought of his first-inning single off the kid when he said that.
Fernandez then stepped in the batter’s box and delivered an RBI single that tied the score at 2.
“I keep getting lucky,” he said of his fifth hit and third RBI, both tops among Marlins pitchers.
Greg Dobbs’ run-scoring double in the fourth knocked in the go-ahead run, and Miami ended up needing insurance runs provided by Giancarlo Stanton’s two-run double in the fifth.
Fernandez gave up three runs (two earned), six hits and walked two going seven innings for the fourth time this season. He has thrown 72 1/3 innings overall. The Marlins are expected to limit him to 150-160 in his first major league season.
The win improved Fernandez’s record to 4-3 with a 3.11 ERA. It’s not far-fetched to think the rookie could be the team’s All-Star representative at New York’s Citi Field next month.
Despite the success, Fernandez insists people shouldn’t expect him to get a big head.
“I grew up with nothing,” he said. “I like to help people. I’m no better than anybody else.”
The Cardinals might disagree.
And for the record, Fernandez never has pitched to his mom.