On night heavy with grief, Gordon produces magic

Smallest guy on field homers after tribute to fallen teammate

September 27th, 2016

was holding the bat. We know that.

But the forces that swung it through the strike zone? Those are impossible to know, to quantify, to attribute.

Carl Sagan says that "if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." Maybe Sagan could explain the dynamics that were at work at Marlins Park on Monday night, but it's a fool's mission to even try.

:: : 1992-2016 ::

Let's just say that the magic Gordon delivered with a leadoff home run was a lot bigger than any one player, especially the smallest one on the field.

"We had some help," Gordon said.

On Sunday, when the news of 's death was as fresh as it was heartbreaking, admitted it would be tough to go on.

"We're not robots," said Prado, the Marlins' third baseman. "We're humans. And we feel. … I understand the fact we have to play games, and we have to be professional. But deep in our hearts, there is a lot of pain."

There was something almost superhuman about everything that the Marlins did on the ultimate Jose Day, when they returned to the field while profoundly grieving the horrific death of their 24-year-old teammate.

• Dee Gordon pays tribute with remarkable home run

They beat the Mets, 7-3, then circled the pitcher's mound marked with Fernandez's No. 16. They started on their feet, locked arm in arm, and many ended on their knees. While fans in the crowd of 26,933 chanted, "Jose, Jose, Jose,'' the guys in uniform stayed a long time before leaving their caps near the pitching rubber and heading off the field.

When the Marlins took their positions to face the Mets, after Sunday's game against Atlanta was postponed, , , Gordon and other players had tear stains mixing with their eye black.

They couldn't have known where they'd find the strength to take their first steps without Fernandez.

Yet Gordon, the skinny leadoff man listed at 170 pounds, showed them.

A left-handed hitter, Gordon went to the plate to bat right-handed, the way his friend Jose hit. He wore a batting helmet marked with Fernandez's No. 16.

Gordon took the first pitch for a ball, then exchanged the first helmet for his own and moved over to the left side. He looked at ball two, then took a big swing at one of Colon's trademark 85-mph fastballs. The baseball soared high and far, into the upper deck in right field, Gordon's first home run in 306 at-bats, since the final game of the 2015 season.

Then, in the time it took Gordon to circle the bases, he fell apart.

Gordon was crying before he touched home plate, then started sobbing as he received hugs from his friends. First, , the on-deck hitter, then Stanton and essentially everyone else who, like him, was wearing a black, No. 16 Fernandez jersey.

"I told the boys, 'If y'all don't believe in God, you might as well start [believing],'' Gordon said. "I've never hit a ball that far, even in batting practice.''

Gordon, who would go 4-for-4 before finally making an out in the seventh inning, was only one of several Marlins who rose to the occasion in the saddest game they've ever played.

, who had once pitched alongside Fernandez in Class A ball, held the Mets scoreless while taking Fernandez's place on the mound. , the late-blooming first baseman who spent seven seasons in the Minor Leagues before earning his spot in Miami, face-planted at third base after his first triple in five years. Stanton blistered the ball the first two times to the plate, and late in the game, between innings, drew Gordon to his chest in one of the night's neatest hugs.

The pregame tribute to Fernandez included a lone bugler who from the first note seemed to be playing a somber rendition of "Taps.'' But this wasn't the song played at military funerals. It was "Take Me Out to the Ballgame,'' a song that perfectly fit the Cuban-born Fernandez, whose love of baseball brought him to Tampa as a teenager.

After the tribute ended, players from the Mets left the visitors' dugout and went to the middle of the field, hugging and supporting their fellow members of the baseball fraternity. It was the same kind of scene that played out in Queens when the Mets played the Braves in the first game after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, and it wasn't only Miami players wiping away tears.

"The entire industry is going through a loss,'' Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Certainly, he belonged to the Marlins. But he belonged to baseball. We're all devastated by the news, the tragedy.''

Of course, this isn't the first time that baseball has lost leading men during a season. The Cardinals' Darryl Kile died of coronary disease in his Chicago hotel room in 2002; the Yankees' Thurman Munson died in the crash of a plane he was piloting in 1979, and the Angels' Lyman Bostock was shot and killed on an off-day in '78.

Nolan Ryan, who was close to Bostock, had to start the day after the murder. He says he didn't even want to go to a baseball park. He just wanted to be left alone with his grief, but professionals know the game must go on.

"One thing Jose Fernandez epitomized is that he loved the game,'' Collins said. "He respected the game. That's why he played it like he did. Therefore, in respect for him and his honor, we've got to go out there and respect the game, and go play it, and play it the right way, and play it with energy, and play it with enthusiasm. There's no other way about it."

This was a game with big implications for the Mets, who are involved in the National League Wild Card chase. But the night was all about the emotions triggered by the death of one of baseball's most beloved players.

Fernandez lived a too-short life that will be celebrated forever by baseball fans once the mourning ends, although that's not happening anytime soon.