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Byrd's ninth-inning single sends Mets past Marlins

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- As long as he stays healthy, Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez will have plenty of opportunities to be the center of attention as a major leaguer.

But a quartet of aging New York Mets overshadowed Fernandez -- the youngest pitcher in Major League Baseball -- on the afternoon of his big-league debut and ensured he'd have to wait at least another start to get his first win.

Marlon Byrd's two-run single with one out in the ninth inning on Sunday lifted the Mets to a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Marlins.

Byrd didn't start for the Mets for the second straight day and struck out in his first two at-bats after entering in a double switch in the fifth.

But he gave the Mets a second straight series win by pulling a 1-and-0 pitch from Steve Cishek just fair down the third-base line. Ruben Tejada and Kirk Nieuwenhuis scored the tying and winning runs without a throw and joined teammates in mobbing Byrd, who eventually got a shaving cream pie in the face from Justin Turner.

"(Going) 0 for 2 with two strikeouts leaves a sour taste in your mouth," said Byrd, who still had traces of the shaving cream in his hair as he spoke to reporters afterward. "To come through like that feels good."

Thanks to Byrd, it was Scott Rice -- a 31-year-old rookie who made his big-league debut this week after spending 14 seasons in the minor leagues -- who posted his first big-league win instead of Fernandez, who was making his first start above Class A.

Rice was the last of five Mets relievers who combined to throw 4 2/3 scoreless innings after starter Aaron Laffey was chased in the fifth. The final three -- Scott Atchison, LaTroy Hawkins and Rice -- made the Mets as non-roster invitees this spring. Hawkins, 40, and Atchison, 37, are the Mets' oldest players.

"Maybe the offseason didn't go as well as all of us expected, but we're here now and we're playing and it's all in the past," said Atchison, who had a 1.58 ERA in 51 2/3 innings for the Red Sox last year but missed time with an elbow injury. "It's good."

Atchison relieved Josh Edgin with runners on second and third and one out in the seventh and retired Adeiny Hechavarria on a grounder before striking out Chris Valaika.

Hawkins allowed a hit but induced a double-play grounder in the eighth while Rice walked two but also got a double play in the ninth.

"Our job in a game like this today is keep it one run, give the offense a chance to get back in the game and take the lead," Atchison said.

As for Byrd -- the third-oldest Met at 35 -- he wasn't sure he'd get another big-league chance after he hit .210 for the Cubs and Red Sox last season before drawing a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

"I wondered if any team was going to take a flier on me," Byrd said. "I can still play, but if not one's going to give you a job, there's not much you can do."

Fernandez -- who was born July 31, 1992, when Hawkins was in his second professional season -- shouldn't have much trouble keeping a job if he pitches like he did Sunday.

Mixing a fastball that regularly hit 96 mph with a 79 mph curveball and 82 mph change-up, Fernandez allowed one run, three hits and one walk while striking out eight. The eight strikeouts were the most by a Marlins pitcher in his major-league debut and the most by a pitcher making his debut against the Mets since the Rockies' Jason Jennings struck out eight on Aug. 23, 2001.

Fernandez retired the first 10 batters he faced, struck out the side in the second and whiffed two batters apiece in the fourth and fifth.

Perhaps the most impressive thing was his efficiency: Fernandez threw 80 pitches, including 53 strikes, in five innings.

"I got to face him when we were in Washington in live BP, so I knew the stuff he had," Valaika said. "He came out and he used all his pitches. I think he did a great job, gave us an opportunity to win a ballgame. I think if he keeps pitching like that, he'll be here for a while."

Daniel Murphy greeted A.J. Ramos with a leadoff homer in the sixth before Ramos, Jon Rauch and Mike Dunn all stranded a runner apiece in the sixth, seventh and eighth.

In the ninth, Cishek retired Lucas Duda on a flyout before he plunked Tejada with a 2-and-2 pitch. Nieuwenhuis followed by lacing a pinch-two-strike single to left and took second as Tejada beat the throw to third to bring up Byrd.

"It's about playing nine innings and keeping yourself in the game and giving yourself a chance," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "We hung in there (and) we didn't let the game get away, which I thought was the biggest thing."

Valaika, Donovan Solano and Justin Ruggiano each had an RBI double for the Marlins, who finished with 13 hits but left 12 men on base. Solano tied a career high with three hits and Hechavarria, Valaika and Greg Dobbs all had two hits apiece.

Murphy had two hits and Anthony Recker had an RBI double in his Mets debut.

Laffey gave up all three runs anda career-high 10 hits along with a walk and five strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.

NOTES: To make room for Laffey on the active and 40-man rosters, the Mets optioned pitcher Jeurys Familia to triple-A Las Vegas and transferred Johan Santana to the 60-day disabled list. Familia struggled in his lone outing of the season Thursday, when he gave up one run on one hit and one walk and uncorked the wild pitch that allowed the eventual decisive run to score in the Mets' 2-1 loss to the Padres. Santana won't pitch this season after tearing the anterior capsule in his left shoulder for the second time. He had surgery Tuesday. ... Laffey, who made 11 appearances for the Yankees in 2011, became the 115th player to play for both the Mets and Yankees. ... The Mets last opened a season with consecutive series wins in 2006, when they won two of three from the Nationals at Shea before sweeping a two-game set from the Marlins. ... Marlins catcher Jeff Mathis, who suffered a broken collarbone during an exhibition game on Feb. 23, played catch from 45 feet Saturday. He's expected to be out until early May. ... Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez, who is on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, played catch Saturday. Marlins manager Mike Redmond said Alvarez could throw in the bullpen by the end of the week. ... Redmond said he hoped that Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison, who is on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from last fall's surgery to repair a torn right patella tendon, will be able to start running soon. Morrison is already taking grounders and participating in batting practice.
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