CLEVELAND — Jose Fernandez couldn't have been happier with the way the night began. Before he took the mound Saturday at Progressive Field, the Marlins had given him a 3-0 lead.
Soon he was fussing and fidgeting and kicking at the dirt in disgust.
Not what the Marlins wanted to see from their ace, who obviously was out of sorts from the first pitch in a 8-3 loss to the Indians.
Not when you're a floundering team clinging to diminishing hopes for the playoffs on a trip that has turned disastrous (1-5 with Sunday's finale remaining), dropping the Marlins to .500 (68-68) for the first time since May 1 (12-12).
"They're a really good team. I was trying to battle, man," Fernandez said. "I didn't even know. I was thinking about rolling the ball to the plate."
It took only four pitches for Fernandez to give back most of the lead on Jason Kipnis' two-run homer. The first three batters whacked extra-base hits, with doubles by Coco Crisp (in the veteran's first plate appearance since returning to the Indians) and Francisco Lindor sandwiched around the homer.
It was a monumental whupping. Before their first out in the third inning the Indians had five doubles. Along with the Kipnis homer, that was already the most extra-base hits Fernandez had ever allowed in a game.
"I was trying to make a pitch and they hit it, trying to make another pitch and they hit it," he said. "I got hit. I got hit really hard. But, you learn from it. That's the only thing you can do and get ready for your next start."
It was also the first time Fernandez lost a start in which he had a three-run lead.
Back-to-back doubles by the Indians' No. 8 and 9 hitters, Tyler Naquin and Roberto Perez, tied the game in the second. Carlos Santana put Cleveland ahead in the third after Lindor led off with his second double.
Fernandez (14-7) was coming off back-to-back starts in which he didn't allow a run over 13 innings, and he had a streak of 14 consecutive scoreless innings since his Aug. 18 start at Cincinnati.
But too many of his pitches were dangerously up in the zone and didn't have the usual bite, though his fastball registered up to 99 mph.
"I thought his stuff was good. They kind of jumped him early with the fastball and kind of stayed on him the whole game," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
"He hung in there, but they did a good job with him, stacked that lineup with lefties. But you also have to be able to change speeds, and that's the one thing I think they kept us from doing."
The 12 hits Fernandez allowed in 5 2/3 innings were a career high – he gave up 11 at Tampa Bay on Oct. 1.
Consecutive two-out singles by Crisp, Kipnis and Lindor in the sixth put an end to the beating, with two runs scoring on Lindor's fourth hit of the night. One of them resulted from Ichiro Suzuki's errant throw from right field.
That rendered one of the seven runs Fernandez allowed unearned. He started the night with a 2.79 ERA and ended at 3.03.
Asked if the Indians have the toughest lineup he's faced, Fernandez said, "I'm not going to say that. But these guys and the Cubs, I would think are the two toughest lineups that I've faced."
Surprisingly, it wasn't the worst beating he has absorbed. The Braves routed him for nine runs, also in 5 2/3 innings, on July 2 in Atlanta, though only six of them were earned.
Saturday continued a troubling trend for Fernandez. He remained without a win on the road since May 26 at Tampa Bay, a span of six starts during which he is 0-4 away from Marlins Park.
Uncharacteristically, Fernandez didn't record his first strikeout until the 10th batter he faced when he got Crisp in the second.
The game seemed headed in a different direction when the Marlins broke out with three runs off Trevor Bauer when four of the first five batters reached.
Christian Yelich's two-run double gave Miami its first lead in the series. Yelich moved to third on J.T. Realmuto's single and scored on Derek Dietrich's sacrifice fly.
That was Dietrich's first plate appearance at Progressive Field, near where he grew up in a Cleveland suburb and starred at St. Ignatius High. It came with about 10 family members, including his grandmother Giovanna Demeter whose late husband Steve played in the majors, and numerous friends and acquaintances in the stands.
Seeing his team slipping but still only three games out of the wild card, Mattingly said, "I'm not concerned with our guys. I'm concerned with the results. We talked about it at the break. We were six over [.500] and we didn't think that was going to do it. We needed to get a ways from that. Obviously it went the other direction. We've got to get going again."