After tragedy, Marlins and Mets brace for emotional game
MIAMI — Jose Fernandez was on the mind of virtually everyone in South Florida on Sunday, especially those who follow the Miami Marlins.
However, the tragic boating-accident death of the 24-year-old All-Star pitcher didn't just impact those in his community.
Fernandez was also respected throughout baseball.
The New York Mets, who will visit the Marlins on Monday to start a three-game series that is sure to be emotional, showed on Sunday that Fernandez was on their minds, too.
Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, who like Fernandez was born in Cuba, hung up a jersey with his friend's name and his No. 16.
“Our guys are a special group,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “We wanted to honor Jose, so we put up his jersey in our dugout. All our guys walked by and gave it a little tap.”
Cespedes said the tribute for Fernandez was the idea of Mets owner Jeff Wilpon, who had the jersey made.
“(Wilpon) came and talked to us in the trainer's room before the game,” Cespedes said. “I decided I wanted to be the one to hang it up in the dugout, just to let everyone know how much this loss means to us.”
The Mets (83-73) lead the San Francisco Giants (82-74) by one game and the St. Louis Cardinals (81-74) by 1 1/2 games in the battle for two NL wild-card berths. It is likely that two of those three teams will make the playoffs.
Miami (77-78) is tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates (77-78), next in the wild-card standings, both 4 1/2 games back with seven games to play.
The Marlins, though, can still play for pride. They can play to try to get a winning record for the first time since 2009. And they can play to honor Fernandez.
Marlins third baseman Martin Prado said he doesn't know how his team can possibly be ready to play on Monday night.
“We are not robots,” Prado said. “We are humans. We feel things. Jose made an impact, in different ways, on every player on this team.
“I know we have to play the games. We are professionals. … But there is a lot of pain. We miss him.”
Marlins manager Don Mattingly wept openly during a Sunday press conference to announce Fernandez's passing.
“I saw such a little boy in Jose,” Mattingly said. “He played with the joy of a Little Leaguer.”
The Marlins have not announced who will start on Monday — Fernandez had been scheduled to pitch before his tragic accident.
Left-hander Adam Conley, who had been scheduled to pitch Sunday before that game with the Atlanta Braves was canceled, is the likely candidate to face the Mets.
Conley (8-6, 3.94 ERA) would be making his first start since Aug. 13. He sustained a finger injury on his left hand, and he likely would be on a strict pitch limit.
New York will counter with right-hander Bartolo Colon (14-7, 3.12 ERA).
With four of the five pitchers the Mets were counting on to end this season in their rotation now injured — Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler — Colon has clearly been New York's rotation savior.
And even though Colon is 43 years old, he is doing quite the opposite of running out of gas. He went 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in August and is 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA in September.
Collins said Colon is the perfect pitcher to have on the mound on Monday. Due to his vast experience, he figures to know how to navigate the emotion evening.
The Mets say they will hang up their Fernandez jersey in their dugout on Monday, and the Marlins will no doubt dedicate what remains of their season to their fallen teammate.
Fans, sadly, were robbed of seeing Fernandez at home on Monday in his beloved Marlins Park — where he had a 29-2 career record and a 1.49 ERA — battling a Mets team that is fighting hard to make the playoffs.
Collins still expects the Marlins to bring their best.
“I'm sure they are all going to be fired up,” Collins said, “not only to beat us but to honor Jose.”