When the Miami Marlins announced Wednesday would mark Jose Fernandez's final start of the season, we knew the game would gain some extra attention and take on a little more meaning considering how great a story Fernandez has been throughout his rookie season. I mean after all, Fernandez has cemented himself as not only a Rookie of the Year candidate in the National League — he enters the clubhouse early as the favorite over Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig — but a Cy Young candidate as well.
Given his youth — he recently turned 21 — his obvious competitive nature and his success this season, Fernandez's emotions were going to be high as he took the hill. That much we could anticipate. We just didn't expect that those emotions could or would escalate to the level they did during the game.
It seemed to begin boiling over in the top half of the sixth inning when Atlanta Braves rookie Evan Gattis — a terrific story in his own right — took Fernandez deep for a solo home run. That would be the only run Fernandez allowed in seven innings — he earned his 12th victory in Miami's 5-2 win — but he clearly took exception to the extra second or two Gattis took to admire his home run. Hey, the kid doesn't like losing a single battle when he's out there, and on those rare occasions he does he doesn't want to be shown up. It's understandable.
As the inning continued, Chris Johnson was a flyout victim for Fernandez, but as he returned to the first base dugout there appeared to be a verbal exchange with Fernandez. A little extra fuel for a fire that was already burning quite strong.
We move ahead to bottom of the inning. In what proved to be his final at-bat of the season, Fernandez muscled up for his first career home run — a no doubter to left center field — and let's just say he took a second or two beyond what Gattis did to admire his own power. The message Fernandez was sending was pretty clear, but I don't think the Braves appreciated the delivery. Then as Fernandez slowly jogged around the bases, he appeared to spit on the ground or at the feet of Johnson as he approached third base.
Whether there was intent behind it or not, it didn't look good, and when Fernandez arrived at the plate an angry Brian McCann was there to greet him. Johnson wasn't far behind. A heated exchange and the emptying of both benches followed. There was some bumping during the conference and maybe a few light shoves, but it didn't develop much beyond words and animated gestures on Johnson's part.
Obviously there were a few breaches of etiquette and unwritten rules that were violated on both sides that needed to discussed, but if I had to guess it's probably the spitting that took it to the next level. Again, it may not have been intentional, but it didn't look good and will require some explanation.
With that said, I'm not going to come down on him too hard on Fernandez. When you mix youth and maybe a little immaturity with the emotions and pressures of baseball, regrettable actions happen. It doesn't matter how old you are or how much experience you have, sometimes the game just gets the best of you. There's a lesson to be learned though, and the lesson is that while showing emotions is fine, knowing the line and keeping them in check is big part of showing your respect for the game and earning respect among your peers.
Based on his comments following the game, it appears he gets that.
"I feel I don't deserve to be here, because this isn't high school no more," the rookie pitcher said. "This is a professional game, and we should be professional players. I think that never should happen. I'm embarrassed, and hopefully that will never happen again."
Again, Fernandez wasn't alone is stirring the pot. Gattis, Johnson and even McCann to an extent had a hand in it as well, but it's good to hear that he knows he pushed it to another level when he could have easily squashed it. Good for him. Good for baseball, too, because he's a star the game can be built around for many years to come.