Puig tearfully recalls his friend Fernandez

Dodgers outfielder, Marlins pitcher bonded by Cuban heritage

Puig tearfully recalls his friend Fernandez

LOS ANGELES -- A distraught Yasiel Puig wiped away tears as he spoke about Miami Marlins pitcher and fellow Cuban Jose Fernandez, who was killed on Sunday in a boating accident.

"He was a very, very close friend of mine," Puig said in the Dodgers clubhouse before their potential division-clinching game against Colorado.

"He was one of the first people I [knew] here, and I was thinking just a couple of weeks ago we were having dinner in Miami: He was a very good guy and I also liked the way he played baseball, the way he treated his mom, his grandma, his teammates and other ballplayers like myself."

Puig said he enjoyed facing Fernandez. When Fernandez threw seven scoreless innings against the Dodgers in Miami earlier this month, Puig was sent up to pinch-hit. When he got in the box, Puig smiled and blew Fernandez a kiss. Fernandez, after some friendly trash talking, blew fastballs past Puig for his 14th and final strikeout of the game.

Fernandez's 14th strikeout

"I think after [Clayton] Kershaw, he was the best pitcher in the big leagues," Puig said. "I liked to face him, we joked around a lot, had a lot of fun. Sometimes he would throw balls, I would tell him to throw strikes. The next time we play Miami, it won't be the same.

"That was the best part about playing in Miami, facing him -- especially when people came to see him and me play there. We were players and it's definitely one thing I was looking forward to every time I was there."

Puig said he met Fernandez in 2013, "when I got called up and we were battling for the Rookie of the Year (Fernandez won, Puig was second). That struck a friendship and we stayed friends in the offseason."

Puig, who lives in Miami in the offseason, said Fernandez was a friend and confidant.

"He would give me advice about how to better myself, and now I lost him," he said.

Manager Dave Roberts said he asked Puig if he wanted to be taken out of Sunday's lineup in the wake of the tragic news, but Puig told him he wanted to play.

To honor his friend, Puig hung a Dodgers jersey with "Fernandez" and "16" in the Dodgers dugout.

Dodgers outfielder Enrique Hernandez, who has family members from Cuba, was a teammate of Fernandez with the Marlins in 2014.

"My grandpa, he's in Puerto Rico, has been out of Cuba for over 40 years and the same way he talks about Yasiel he talks about Jose," said Hernandez. "To have an effect like that on an entire country and sport just shows what kind of talent and person he was. My grandpa said it was amazing to watch, that one kid could just paralyze an entire country when he pitched. The country stopped and watched."

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.