KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Marcus Stroman has said throughout the postseason that he relishes pitching on the big stage.
He entered Friday night needing a Blue Jays victory over the Royals to take the biggest stage he will have had to date: ALCS Game 7, with a chance to reach the World Series against the Mets. But it was not to be.
"It's definitely exciting. Game 7. There's no place I'd rather be," the former Patchogue-Medford star said late Friday afternoon, hours before the Royals eliminated the Blue Jays, 4-3, in Game 6. "I'm ready. I'm excited and I'm hoping it gets to that point. I think we have an opportunity to get there."
The Royals brought a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning Friday night after early home runs by Ben Zobrist and Mike Moustakas off David Price and a two-out RBI single by Alex Rios off Aaron Sanchez in the seventh. But Jose Bautista hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot off Ryan Madson, to tie it at 3-3 in the top of the eighth.
That gave the Blue Jays hope -- until Lorenzo Cain scored from first on Eric Hosmer's none-out single in the eighth, dashing the dreams of Stroman and an entire country.
Stroman, 24, experienced mixed results in his first postseason. He pitched reasonably well in his two ALDS starts against the Rangers, allowing a combined five earned runs. Then he earned his first postseason win in ALCS Game 3, though that came primarily because of the Blue Jays' offense. Stroman allowed four runs and 11 hits in 61/3 innings in Toronto's 11-8 victory.
He said looking at tape of that outing "definitely" was a part of his preparation for a possible Game 7. "I have the game plan I'll go about in my head," Stroman said. "I've looked at video, talked to our pitching coaches, went over it with Russell [Martin]. I'm excited to get back out there and put our team in a position to win."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons watched Stroman go 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in four September starts after making a faster-than-expected recovery from an ACL tear suffered March 10. Then he eagerly took the ball in the postseason. He has seemed unfazed by it all, whether it be the pressure of a pennant race or the postseason. "He's really been that guy that to this point he's always turned up at the right time," Gibbons said. "So that would be a good thing if he's out there tomorrow."
The biggest difference Stroman has found between a regular-season outing and one in the playoffs? "It's just the intensity," he said. "Everything is amped up times a hundred, you know what I mean? So every pitch feels like it's 3-2, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded. And the crowd plays a large part in that. I love pitching 3-2, bottom of the ninth, two outs. It's emotional."
Stroman's three previous playoff starts came in the din of the Rogers Centre, an energy he has said fuels him. But hostility does, too.
"Whether it's love or hate, just being able to [channel] all that energy into pitching, it's fun, I love it," Stroman said. "I love being in other ballparks and having huge crowds and everyone being against you. It kind of brings out the best and makes you kind of get up and be your best."
In looking back at his season before Game 6, Stroman said a part of him still couldn't believe the position he was in.
"I definitely had it in the back of my head in a perfect-case scenario this is where I would be, but it's hard to actually sit there and actually believe you'd be sitting in this position this day," said Stroman, who returned to Duke University after the injury to finish his degree and rehab.
"This still feels like a dream to me now. Still feels like I haven't woke up this entire summer. And everything has worked out perfectly. Just thankful for every single person I've had in my corner and anyone that's helped me got here. It's been truly special."