TORONTO -- On a night when his team advanced to the American League Championship Series with a walk-off 7-6 win over the Rangers in 10 innings, Blue Jays starter Aaron Sanchez paid tribute to late Marlins pitcher José Fernández.
Sanchez, who allowed six runs while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings in his first postseason start, had "JDF16" written in white above the brim of his cap to represent Fernandez's initials and uniform number.
The Blue Jays will play the Indians in Game 1 of the ALCS on Friday at 8 p.m. ET at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The ALCS will be broadcast on TBS, as well as Sportsnet and RDS (in French) in Canada.
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A native of Barstow, Calif., Sanchez opened up about the friendship he built with Fernandez over the past season. The Marlins superstar, who passed away in a boating accident on Sept. 25 in Miami, was popular among his peers because of his vibrant personality, in addition to being one of the best pitchers in the game.
Sanchez held back tears when discussing their recently formed bond. Although the two did not share similar paths to the Major Leagues, with Sanchez growing up in California and Fernandez defecting to the United States from Cuba, the 24-year-old right-handers became close at the 2016 All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego.
"It sucks, man," Sanchez said. "When situations like that happen in the game, you really put life into perspective. This kid is my age and has the world by his hand. He was one of the best pitchers -- if not the best pitcher in the game -- and to see something so unheard of happen was really hard for me.
"I got the opportunity to meet him at the All-Star Game and I had the chance to text him a little bit after the fact. It's obviously a situation you don't ever want to have to deal with it. For me, I felt like this tribute was something I needed to do, and it definitely was the right thing to do."
Sanchez had the letters on his cap prior to his outing against the Orioles on Sept. 27, and he kept it throughout his final regular-season start at Fenway Park.
The young righty joins a list of several Major Leaguers who have honored Fernandez since his passing. All Major League teams held a moment of silence and many have added mementos to their uniform. Among the many tributes, Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman placed Fernandez's initials on his cap, and Giants outfielder Ángel Pagán placed Fernandez's initials on the back of his jersey.
Sanchez said that Fernandez's passing has allowed him to appreciate the little things in life. In addition to not taking anything for granted, Sanchez continues to appreciate his family and close friends around him, realizing anything can change in an instant.
"To see how much success he had and just to know one thing can change your life, it really puts life into perspective on things," Sanchez said. "Bless him. He was a special young man, and one that brought happiness into a lot of people's lives."