But for every instance that inspired reminders of the 21-year-old’s immaturity, he managed to recover as well as any player could hope to following a display such as his.
A small accounting:
- Top of the fifth inning: Justin Upton blasts a ball to center field, which is tracked down by Justin Ruggiano. From the mound, Fernandez is all smiles.
- Top of the sixth: Atlanta’s Evan Gattis responds after hitting a 96-mph fastball into the left field bleachers by admiring it for a moment while briefly staring down the pitcher. Fernandez notices. (Watch it here.)
- Two hitters later, Chris Johnson and Fernandez exchange words after Johnson flies out to center field.
- Bottom of the sixth: Fernandez blasts a nearly 400-foot drive off Braves left-hander Mike Minor for his first career homer, flips his bat away and—ostensibly in response to Gattis—stands to admire it. This is not an innocent would-be slugger in awe of his own unexpected power; the move is intended to disrespect the Braves, who take it precisely that way.
- Fernandez begins an exceedingly slow trip around the bases—28.58 seconds, according to Tater Trot Tracker. (It would likely be among the five slowest in baseball this year if David Ortiz had taken up a profession other than baseball.) Minor stared him down much of the way.
- As he rounds third—Johnson’s position—Fernandez spits toward the base.
- When Fernandez crosses the plate, Braves catcher Brian McCann informs him of the ways in which he has behaved badly. “You’re a kid and you’re in the big leagues and you need to do what big leaguers do,” Fernandez recalled him saying in an MLB.com report. The players go nearly nose to nose.
- Johnson sprints in from third (making you-talk-too-much motions with his hand), and the benches and bullpens empty.
- In the aftermath, Fernandez paces the dugout, smiling. (Watch it all here.)
It’s easy to quibble about overreaction and the unnecessary sensitivity of ballplayers, but there’s no mistaking the fact that messages of disrespect were delivered from both parties, and received as intended—none louder than Fernandez’s. That it came from a rookie only served to amplify things.
At this point, of course, Fernandez must be given credit for attempting to pacify the situation almost as soon as it came to a head, telling McCann during their confrontation that, “I’m sorry, the game got the best of me,” he recalled after the game in an MLB.com report.
“[McCann] was talking to me as a friend, or a dad, teaching a kid,” he said. “That’s how I felt.”
Fernandez later said that he was embarrassed by his actions, saying “it’s something that can’t happen. It’s not good for baseball.”
The incident also illustrated the importance of quality leadership, particularly on the part of Marlins manager Mike Redmond. ”Tonight showed some immaturity on Jose’s part …” he said. “He got caught up in the emotions, but I’m not happy. It really ruined the night for me. I know that will never happen again. … We respect the game.”
Redmond took things a step further, making sure that Fernandez’s actions did not carry over. A meeting was set up in a hallway underneath Marlins Park, where Fernandez apologized personally to McCann and Minor.
This is unusual in baseball circles, but hardly precedent-setting. In 2006, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire led Torii Hunter across the ballpark to apologize to Red Sox brass for swinging hard at a 3-0 pitch while the Twins held an 8-1, eighth-inning lead.
Unlike the Fernandez situation, there was no disrespect intended on Hunter’s part. Precisely like the Fernandez situation, it did not matter—perception is everything. From The Baseball Codes:
After the game, Gardenhire took the outﬁelder to the visitors’ clubhouse to speak to Red Sox manager Terry Francona, trying to wipe away the potential for hard feelings. To abide by the unwritten rule that bars opposing players from the locker room, the meeting took place in a rear laundry room in the bowels of the Metrodome. There Hunter informed both managers that he had swung out of inattention, not disrespect.
“We wanted to make sure [Francona] understood,” said Gardenhire. “I went there to let him know that I know the game too. It’s a manager’s responsibility when a player swings 3-0 to make sure the player understands that. I wanted him to know we didn’t give a sign for him to swing away, that Torii just made a mistake. I thought that it was good for Torii to explain it to him, so I took him over.”
“You see those types of things and you know it’s being taken care of internally,” said Red Sox pitching coach Al Nipper about the Hunter incident. “You say, Hey, it’s an honest mistake, it wasn’t something intentional, where the guy’s trying to show you up. We all make mistakes in this game.”
Fernandez’s mistake was considerably more profound, but his reaction was appropriate.
“I feel I don’t deserve to be here, because this isn’t high school no more,” he said after the game. “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.”
Wednesday was the final start of Fernandez’s season, with his team enforcing an innings limit on his young arm. The guy will probably go on to win Rookie of the Year, but, starting with his confrontation with McCann, he’s already begun to display the maturity of a veteran.