MORE from our HomeTeam writers.
PORT ST. LUCIE — In the biggest inning of the season — the fifth at the Class 6A state championship — Nathan Hahn gave up a single to the first batter he faced, walked the second intentionally, and surrendered a grand slam to the third.
By the time he walked off the mound, an Alonso lead had turned into a 7-4 deficit.
Hahn never made it to the dugout.
Behind him, first baseman Jose Fernandez had ordered him to stop, then he let him have it.
After all, this has always been the deal between the pitchers.
“I helped him with his English,” Hahn said. “He helps me with my pitching.”
In perfectly clear English, “I told him, do you know what you’re playing for?” Fernandez said. “This isn’t about you winning. It’s not about anybody winning. It’s about the team winning.”
Now get in the dugout, don’t laugh, don’t cheer, sit by yourself, just get it together.
It was animated.
It was effective.
You got this, Fernandez convinced him.
• • •
And as part of their deal, Hahn went out and closed the game in, well, Jose Fernandez-esque fashion, retiring the final eight batters, four via strikeout, as Alonso won its second state title in three years with an amazing flourish.
Fernandez could not be prouder of his pupil.
The two met in sixth-period biology, in 2008, when Hahn was a freshman and Fernandez a sophomore still struggling to master his new country’s language.
They became fast friends, going to dinner together, movies, baseball games, swimming.
Fernandez introduced him to his pitching coach, Orlando Chinea, and the two became workout buddies.
When Hahn went to watch his girlfriend’s cheerleading competition recently, Fernandez went along, which come to think about it is either a true sign of friendship or the Cuban star is just smarter than Hahn thinks.
“He’s got my back,” Hahn said, “and I’ve got his.”
• • •
Fernandez had heroically lifted the Ravens here to Digital Domain Park, right through the postseason. In the semifinals, his pitching and dramatic seventh-inning winning homer put his team into the final.
At a nearby Residence Inn a few hours later, the two would share a room and talk about baseball and winning another state championship.
Hahn wanted to finish what Fernandez had started.
“We work together,” Fernandez said, with pride.
• • •
For a guy still learning to speak English, Fernandez was awfully talkative Tuesday night.
He put his arm around starting pitcher Chris Chism when he started to struggle and was constantly exhorting his teammates.
When Hahn left a curveball up to Deltona’s cleanup hitter — “You have to miss down,” Fernandez reminded him afterward, “that’s how it is” — he knew Fernandez would want to, um, talk.
“He has been my mentor,” Hahn said. “I’ve been following in his footsteps; I want to do like him. I had to calm down. Giving up a grand slam at state is not always the best feeling, but he helped me out. He got my mind right.”
Then Fernandez went and convinced coach Landy Faedo, who had arms warming up in the bullpen, that all was well.
“I told Coach, ‘You know what, I trust that guy. Let him go back out there,’ ” Fernandez said. “He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You trust him?’ I said I trust him. And look, he went back out there and did it.”
The Amazin’ Ravens answered the grand slam with five runs, and once he had the lead again, Hahn was awesome.
When the Ravens added three more the next inning, it meant Fernandez, who said he had an inning or two left in his golden right arm, would not be needed.
Not this time.
Hahn’s got this.
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com