PORT ST. LUCIE — Jose Fernandez knew how lucky he was to be gripping the ball on the pitcher's mound Saturday, three outs away from a state title.
It was more than a year ago that he fled Cuba, but with his family cheering behind home plate and his native country hundreds of miles away, Alonso's starter focused on finishing off Miami Columbus.
"He said it was his life to finish that game," assistant Pete Toldeo said, interpreting for Fernandez.
Fernandez got the first two outs of the seventh, but after a pair of runners reached, Ravens coach Landy Faedo lifted him in favor of Jordan Huchro to secure a 4-3 victory and the Class 6A state title.
Fernandez went 62/3 innings with seven strikeouts, allowing four hits, a walk and three earned runs. He was fine with leaving the final out for someone else.
"This is a team game," Fernandez said. "… Sometimes you think you can, but you have to know that you can't."
Beyond Fernandez's backstory of coming to America — after an earlier failed attempt, he and his mother reached Mexico via boat and eventually rejoined his father in Florida — was his ascent to No. 2 starter. Faedo lost ace Ray Delphey for the season with an injury and moved Fernandez from reliever to starter because he had three developed pitches (fastball, curve and changeup).
Fernandez needed all three Saturday after the first inning, when he balked twice and Columbus scored all of its runs.
Between innings, teammates talked to Fernandez in the dugout. Though Fernandez is still learning English, his teammates have learned to communicate with the sophomore ace with small talk.
Fernandez then retired 18 in a row before he handed the ball off.
"I feel like a very lucky person," Fernandez said. "That's why I'm here fighting and trying to do the best I can."