I considered attending the Braves’ Sept. 14 game — not to write, just to watch. Julio Teheran was pitching for the Atlanta nine, and I like watching Julio work. Jose Fernandez was scheduled to start for the Marlins, and somehow I’d never seen him in person. I rejected the notion for various reasons: The Braves were out of it and I was mostly immersed in football; Sept. 14 was my birthday and we were going out to dinner, and — I cringe when I think of it — I figured I’d catch a Fernandez start next season.
That’s how life is: We figure tomorrow will be — more or less, for better or worse — much like yesterday and today. Then something happens and we’re reminded not one among us is guaranteed a tomorrow. If you click on this link, you’ll find an Associated Press account of Miami’s decision to push Fernandez’s next scheduled start from Sunday against the Braves to Monday against the Mets. (Headline: “Braves avoid Marlins’ Fernandez in series finale.”)
We know now that there will be no next start for Jose Fernandez. He died early Sunday in a boating accident off Miami Beach. He was 24. He’d announced on Instagram last week that his girlfriend is pregnant. (Sunday’s Braves-Marlins game was canceled.)
Two days before Fernandez pitched against (and beat) the Braves on my birthday, Matthew Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus wrote a post about how great Fernandez had been this season in an unconventional way — among National League pitchers, he was second to Max Scherzer in strikeouts, but he probably wasn’t going to reach 200 innings. After his Tommy John surgery of 2014, the Fish had been limiting Fernandez’s innings, as any club would have.
As we know, the Braves had a history with him. As a rookie, he’d admired his first career home run — he could hit, too — for what the Braves deemed an unsuitable length of time. Fernandez spat in Chris Johnson’s general direction while rounding third base. (The two would wind up playing together in Miami.) Brian McCann and Fernandez had words at the plate. (This was the same month McCann took umbrage over Carlos Gomez’s post-homer actions.) Benches cleared.
On Sept. 14, Fernandez plunked Nick Markakis, who’d hit a two-run homer earlier, in the side. (Fernandez insisted he was trying to jam Markakis because the guy had already hit his best curve over the fence.) The Braves’ Jose Ramirez then threw behind Fernandez’s head and was ejected. Benches again cleared. Ramirez was suspended for three games.
For all of that, if the Fish had approached John Coppolella and said: “Would you be interested in trading for Jose Fernandez?”, how long would the Braves’ GM have needed to say, “Yes, please”? One thousandth of a second?
Of all the young pitchers in baseball, Jose Fernandez was the best. And what a terrible word — “was.”