TORONTO — If you listen to Marcus Stroman for any amount of time, the fact he likes pitching in big moments is going to come up. More recently, he’s also been sure to mention his love of Toronto and Canada with some regularity.
Taking the right-hander at his word, his probable last appearance for the Blue Jays in Toronto seems like the kind of occasion he’d embrace. He certainly pitched like it against the Indians on Wednesday night, giving up just one run in seven innings with an excellent 6/1 K/BB ratio in a 4-0 Blue Jays loss.
“I feel great. I’m just excited how good I feel,” he said summing up the performance. “I feel like I’ve always been a second-half pitcher and my work ethic from this past offseason is starting to show. I’m having a pretty special second half. My stuff is beyond where I thought it’d be.”
Because Stroman’s departure some time between now and the July 31st trade deadline is presumed rather than official, it was hard to differentiate the start from any other from the outside. The crowd size of 25,385 wasn’t too much bigger than the 22,816 the team drew the previous night. There was no Jumbotron acknowledgment for obvious reasons. Teammates and coaches weren’t saying goodbye to Stroman because he may still be around for the next game on Friday - and perhaps on their next road trip.
That led to a surreal atmosphere where the game had a greater significance, but only for those with a certain information in hand. For some in attendance, Wednesday night was simply an example of an outgunned 39-65 team being shut down by a superior 59-42 club.
The only hint about the goings on to the less aware was a bigger-than-usual cheer for Stroman on his way into the dugout, and the powerful acknowledgement that followed.
“I realized that it could possibly be my last homestand so I definitely wanted to show the crowd some love,” he said. “The last six years I’ve been a Blue Jay have been unbelievable.”
You can try to lip read that at your own risk, but there’s no doubt Stroman was fired up.
“I said ‘this is my house’ because it is,” the right-hander said, perhaps with a tactical omission.
Things were a little more clear to folks watching the broadcast at home. The cameras in the dugout picked up a couple of scenes from the aftermath of the start, including Stroman sitting on the bench without a jersey and a hug between the starter and manager Charlie Montoyo.
Stro took his jersey off after finishing his 7 innings. A legendary exit if it is one. https://t.co/LRh0FQd9Yi
— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) July 25, 2019
Stroman and Charlie Montoyo with a C+ hug to mark the occasion pic.twitter.com/5wsWXoiUEt
— Nick Ashbourne (@NickAshbourne) July 25, 2019
“It’s the same thing that he always does,” Montoyo said of his behaviour in the dugout. “He gets really happy, he’s emotional. It’s the same thing, nothing different.”
Regardless of what one did or didn’t know about the circumstances of Stroman’s start, he put together an outing that’s encapsulated all the things Blue Jays will miss about him.
The standard Marcus Stroman gem checklist is as follows:
A bullpen-saving six-plus innings
Various shimmies that may or may not have utility
Efficient strike zone-filling pitching
Enthusiasm and emotion shown throughout
Some kind of weird and/or impressive fielding play
This outing checked all of those boxes with aplomb. He got through seven with exactly 100 pitches, kept the ball on the ground, and exploded with joy when teammates like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Danny Jansen made big defensive plays.
Particularly notable was this putout on a ball hit by Oscar Mercado. Maybe there are other pitchers who make this play, but none of them would toss the ball to themselves first.
During his time in Toronto, Stroman has been the rare pitcher who’s seemed to take a genuine interest in being an entertainer as well as a baseball player. He’s embraced the idea of putting on a show for Blue Jays fans - and forging a connection with them - which is one reason he’ll be fondly remembered long after his departure.
“I think it’s just me being me,” he said. “Who I am as a person. I’m extremely thankful for the fans coast to coast in Canada it’s been unbelievable.”
While Wednesday rarely felt like a monumental event, that had nothing to do with Stroman’s performance. For one more time at Rogers Centre the “Stro Show” was as electric as ever - even if nothing else around it was.
The shape of Stroman’s next chapter remains fuzzy, but wherever it takes him he has no doubt that he’ll be up to the challenge.
“I’m ready to dominate, wherever that may be. Absolutely dominate.”
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