Thursday, December 22, 2016

Top 5 Jose Fernandez Career Moments

Each time Jose Fernandez took the mound for the Miami Marlins, everyone watching knew they were in for a special treat. Jose's cheerful smile and jubilant style of play resonated everywhere with baseball fans of all ages. Whether he was striking out hitters with his nasty curveball, snagging comebackers on the mound, or crushing baseballs out of Marlins Park, Jose always played the game with a joy and passion like no other.

When the news broke early on September 25th that he had been killed in a boating accident, the entire sports world stopped. Jose's tragic death goes beyond the sport of baseball itself. He was a cultural icon to Cubans both abroad and in the United States. As a teammate, he was a breath of fresh air in the clubhouse of a struggling small market team. To the game of baseball, he was an exciting young talent with the world ahead of him.

In South Florida and the baseball community as a whole, Jose Fernandez will never be forgotten. In the history of baseball (or possibly even sports), I cannot recall a time when a young, established superstar had been taken before entering his prime. As a salute to Jose and his incredible four years with the Miami Marlins, here are the top five moments of his career.

No. 5 Jose Catches Troy Tulowitzki's Liner

As a rookie in 2012, Jose was pitching against the Colorado Rockies in late August at Marlins Park. In the very first inning, Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki came to the plate and smoked a 97 miles per hour fastball right bak at Jose. In a moment that you could have missed if you blinked, Jose snagged the liner and walked right off the mound.

After running a few feet, Tulowitzki stopped right in his tracks and stood there amazed at what he had just seen. He promptly asked Jose, "Did you catch that?" and the 21-year old responded, "Yeah, that's right!"

Jose would continue to dazzle in the game as he threw seven innings, allowed no runs on four hits, walked none, and struck out eight. The Marlins would win 3-0, giving Jose his 10th victory of the season.

No. 4 Jose's First All-Star Game

As part of a very successful rookie season, Jose was selected to his first All-Star Game at Citi Field in 2013. Entering the contest in the top of the sixth inning, the young Marlin pitcher was tasked with the daunting trio of Dustin Pedroia, Miguel Cabrera, and Chris Davis.

Working on Dustin Pedroia first, Jose needed five pitches to dispose of the Red Sox second baseman as he zipped a 96 mile per hour heater down the heart of the plate for a strikeout. With Miguel Cabrera up to bat, he ran the count to 0-2 before getting the triple crown winner to pop out to the first baseman. For his final act, Jose again needed five pitches as he struck out Chris Davis on a breaking ball in the dirt.

For a 20-year old kid to come into the All Star Game and nearly strikeout the side is an incredible feat. What makes this even more significant is that Jose was the only Miami Marlin to be selected to the National League All-Star team that season.

No. 3 Jose K's 27 Over Two Starts

After the All Star Game, Jose pitched arguably the two best games of his rookie season against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians. Soon the enough, the Marlins began to ramp up their "#Jose4ROY" campaign.

Against the Pirates in Miami, Jose tossed eight masterful innings of two-run ball, allowed five hits,
and fanned 13 hitters. The Marlins narrowly won the game by a score of 4-3.

Five days later, Jose was back on the mound in Miami yet again. With Cleveland as his victim this time, Jose showed no mercy as he threw eight shutout innings, allowed three hits, and struck out 14 batters!

Jose's performance against the Tribe set a new Marlins rookie record for strikeouts in a game and played a big part in him winning the 2013 National League Rookie of the Year Award.

No. 2 Jose's Final Outing

As Jose took the mound against the division champion Washington Nationals on September 20th, nobody thought that this would be the last time they would see the Marlins' ace on a baseball diamond.

With a Giancarlo Stanton home run in the sixth inning as his only run support, Jose took matters into his own hands to beat the Nationals. Pitching eight innings for the final time in his career, Jose allowed no runs on three hits and struck out 12 batters on route to a 1-0 victory.

The biggest moment of the game -and final moment of Jose's career- would come in the eighth inning. With runners on the corners and two outs, the slugging second baseman Daniel Murphy strode to the plate. After getting ahead 1-2 in the count, Jose induced a broken bat groundout to end the inning and preserve the lead.

According to Marlin third baseman, Martin Prado, Jose Fernandez told one of his teammates that the Washington game was "the best game he ever pitched." With his final career victory, Jose finished with an incredible 29-2 record at Marlins Park.

No. 1 Jose at the Plate

As much as Jose loved to pitch, he loved to hit just as equally. Of all of Jose's at-bats, two of his most memorable came against the division rival Atlanta Braves.

During his rookie season, Jose was in the midst of his final start on September 11th. With the Rookie of the Year race coming down the stretch, this was Jose's last chance to leave a good impression on the voters. Needles to say, he did just that.

With the Marlins leading 4-1, Jose drilled a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall for his first career major league home run. He took a good look at the ball as it left his bat, which angered Braves' catcher Brian McCann and third baseman Chris Johnson.

The benches would clear, but no punches were thrown. Although Jose's actions were deemed "childish" in the eyes of some veteran players, it is worth keeping in mind that he was a 21-year old pitcher who hit his first ever home run in the big leagues. There are some pitchers who never even make it to the big leagues, yet alone get the chance to hit a home run when they make it there.

The second memorable at-bat came this past season in a July game against the Braves at Turner Field. In an extra inning affair, Jose was called upon in the top of the 12th inning to pinch-hit. With runners on first and second and two outs, Jose drilled a double in the gap to score both runners. The Marlins would win the game 7-5.

Final Thoughts
Whether with his arm or his bat, Jose Fernandez would do all he could to help the Marlins win. No moment or game was ever too big for him. Baseball wasn't even hard for him. The difficult part was defecting from Cuba and gaining his freedom. 

Compared to that, facing a potent offense or recovering from Tommy John was a cake walk for Jose. His charisma, talent, and joy were unlike any other. He will be greatly missed by family, teammates, myself, and fans everywhere. R.I.P. El NiƱo, you will never be forgotten.

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