Right-hander allows Trumbo's two-run HR, racks up 6 K's
By Alykhan Ravjiani
TORONTO -- Some questioned the decision to hand Marcus Stroman the ball in the American League Wild Card Game against the Orioles, but he passed the test with flying colors in Tuesday night's walk-off 5-2 victory.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons called the 25-year-old right-hander a "big-game pitcher," and Stroman gave Toronto six innings of two-run ball on an efficient 81 pitches. The Blue Jays won in the 11th inning on Edwin Encarnacion's three-run homer, sending Toronto to the AL Division Series vs. the Rangers, starting Thursday in Texas (4:30 p.m. ET, TBS/Sportsnet/TVA).
"I know what I'm capable of," Stroman said. "I know a lot of people doubted me, didn't want me to start, didn't think I could pitch in this moment. I can't tell you enough how confident this group is in this clubhouse and how much we don't care about outside opinions. We keep it in house, we know what we can do, and we go out every day and compete."
Part of the reason Gibbons turned to Stroman was his ability to keep the ball on the ground and work efficiently. Stroman had the highest ground-ball rate in the Majors this year among qualifiers, at 60 percent, which helped neutralize the Orioles' home run-hitting offense.
Baltimore earned 51.9 percent of its runs via the homer this season, second highest in MLB history. On Tuesday, the Orioles' offense was limited to just one long ball, a two-run shot off the bat of Mark Trumbo in the top of the fourth inning.
"I felt really strong the entire start," Stroman said. "Even the pitch Trumbo hit, it wasn't a bad pitch. It was down and he did a great job getting to it. [Catcher] Russell Martin and I prepared all day for this, and we executed. I thought I had a really good mix of pitches with my curveball, cutter and sinker, and just really did work to keep them off-balance."
Stroman's candidacy for Tuesday's start was debated due to the Orioles' struggles against left-handed pitchers, with southpaw Francisco Liriano also given consideration. Stroman entered Tuesday's game with 1-2 record and a 7.04 ERA in four regular-season starts vs. the O's in 2016.
Despite those numbers, Stroman has pitched for the Blue Jays in big moments before. He started Game 5 of last season's AL Division Series against the Rangers, which was ultimately decided on Jose Bautista's bat-flip home run. Stroman also was given the ball on Opening Day against the Rays, and for the Blue Jays' home opener against the Red Sox.
"That's his makeup. The bigger the stage, the bigger he shows up, and we knew he was going to come out and perform tonight," Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar said. "It's no surprise to anyone in this clubhouse. You throw the numbers out the window when it comes to big games, and you trust your guy. Marcus was terrific tonight."
Alykhan Ravjiani is a reporter for MLB.com based in Toronto. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.