For three and a half hours in a city that had its heart ripped out by Fernandez’s death in a boating accident on Sunday, the familiar routine of that game provided group therapy. Players, coaches and fans cheered and cried. Visceral emotion poured out with every play. Big, strong men who typically strive to conceal their feelings on the field turned weak.
Collins hoped Monday would pass quickly, because he dreaded the demanding balance of emotions and work. He addressed the Mets before the game and reminded them that life was short and told them to honor Fernandez by playing hard, as he did. But he also told them to remember the task at hand.
“It was really hard today to even step on the diamond,” d’Arnaud said.
So after the touching pregame video honoring Fernandez played over a melancholy rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” the two teams exchanged hugs in a display of compassion and sportsmanship. Mets’ veteran utility man Kelly Johnson said it was Collins’s idea to embrace the Marlins.
Although he was already crying, the Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton said he was trying to contain himself. But when he saw Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom offer hugs despite the cast on his surgically repaired right elbow, Stanton was moved.
“I can’t believe how they acted and treated us,” Stanton said. “I know it’s extremely tough on their side; they’re in a playoff race, too. They’ve got to still understand to take this game for what it was. I appreciate everything they did.
“You never think a hug, or a few hugs, would change anything or be that big. But that was huge of them.”
Credit Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
Yoenis Cespedes, a fellow Cuban, related to Fernandez’s experience of having survived a harrowing escape from their native country to pursue dreams of playing professional baseball. He had “JF16” scrawled on his Mets cap. Cespedes knew Fernandez only from the baseball diamond but heard from many that he was a good-natured person off the field.
Tears in his eyes, Cespedes buried his face in the shoulder of the Marlins hitting coach Barry Bonds, who kissed Cespedes on the head.
“We tried to come in and be respectful and compassionate, and just over all be there,” Johnson said. “The baseball almost really did feel like the game almost shouldn’t have happened, but at the same time, after the first few innings and the game got going on, that’s when things started to become a little bit more normal for a minute.”
The emotions were the strongest in the Marlins’ first at-bat of the game. Despite his strong pitching of late, Mets starter Bartolo Colon was no match for the power of Fernandez’s legacy.
Gordon, the Marlins’ leadoff hitter, wore a right-handed helmet and stood in the right-handed batter’s box for Colon’s first pitch of the game. He copied Fernandez’s stance and leg kick, and took the first pitch. Gordon had sent word to Colon before the game that he wanted to do this, and Colon obliged.
“I give them credit for doing a good job to honor their teammate,” Colon said.
Gordon then switched to his normal helmet and returned to his natural left-handed swing. Two pitches later, he clobbered Colon’s fastball down the middle of the plate into the second deck of right field for solo home run. It was the first homer of the season for Gordon, a lean hitter with little power.
Gordon cried the entire way around the bases. Marlins Park coursed with bittersweet energy. Gordon touched his heart and pointed to the sky when he touched home plate. His teammates hugged him one by one as he entered the Marlins’ dugout.
“It’s great for them that they were able to win, but I would have enjoyed it if it was him that got the win over me,” Colon said of Fernandez.
The Marlins’ inspired play continued. Colon’s trademark command was not there, and the Marlins knocked him around. Colon left the game with only one out in the third inning, the Mets trailing by 6-0.
“I certainly understand the tragedy and everything else, but the whole atmosphere was not baseball or what we’re used to playing, especially here,” Collins said. “This place has a lot of energy, and today it was real quiet and real sullen. We just couldn’t get ourselves going.”
As the game went on, the visible tears stopped, and it began to feel like a normal game other than the reminders of Fernandez and his No. 16 all over the stadium. Marlins players all wore No. 16 Fernandez jerseys.
The Mets offered support to the Marlins throughout the game, too. When he was on base, Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera squeezed the shoulders of Justin Bour at first base. Jose Reyes did the same for Gordon.
The Mets’ bullpen did not allow a run in relief, and the offense threatened in the middle innings, but the deficit was too large.
“I’m very proud of our guys and how they went about things,” Collins said. “They respected the night. They respected Jose. We’ll get ready to play tomorrow.”