MIAMI — Marcus Stroman hasn’t seen anything like the dangerous Dominican Republic lineup he’ll face Saturday night at Marlins Park. Or the countless number of inflatable plantains their passionate fans enjoy smacking together like banana-shaped thunder sticks.
What’s worse? His Blue Jays teammate Jose Bautista staring back at him, possibly right after Manny Machado and Robinson Cano? Or the expected sellout crowd filled mostly with raucous Dominican backers, loudly harassing him on every pitch?
“Yeah, I can’t wait,” Stroman, who starred at Patchogue-Medford High School, said yesterday. “That atmosphere, that environment, is something I feel like I’m able to thrive off. Similar to the playoffs. I felt like we’ve had that environment in Toronto before, so I can’t wait to get out there and kind of use that energy, kind of direct it in a positive way when I’m on the mound.”
Stroman did catch a break in one respect. Saturday night’s game won’t have quite the same do-or-die stakes it might have had, thanks to Adam Jones, whose walk-off RBI single with two outs in the 10th inning Friday night gave Team USA a critical 3-2 win over plucky Colombia.
Jose Quintana, now the White Sox ace after the Chris Sale trade, carried a no-hit bid into the sixth inning to protect Colombia’s 2-0 lead. But the WBC-mandated 65-pitch limit cut Quintana short at 63, and Team USA rallied after his exit.
Later in the sixth, Nolan Arenado should have been the final out when he whiffed, but a wild pitch allowed him to belly-flop into first base safely as the second run scampered home.
In the 10th, Team USA drew a pair of one-out walks to set up Jones, who lashed an 0-and-2 pitch into centerfield for the winner.
“Now we’re able to breathe a little bit,” Jones said.
If not for Jones’ heroics, the WBC’s controversial new tiebreaker rule would have kicked in for the 11th inning, with runners placed at first and second.
USA manager Jim Leyland said he was saving Andrew Miller for that scenario, but now he’ll be available at full strength against the D.R.
“Now you know why I’m not managing anymore,” Leyland joked afterward. “This could have gone either way.”
Stroman and the Nationals’ Tanner Roark will piggyback Saturday night’s start, with each able to contribute up to 65 pitches. The Dominican Republic is the defending champ — currently on a 9-0 roll — and Stroman is saddled with the fact that Team USA has never won a World Baseball Classic in three tries since it was created in 2006.
Canada’s Ryan Dempster, who hadn’t pitched since the 2013 World Series with the Red Sox, allowed four runs and seven hits in his two innings against the Dominican Republic on Thursday, a performance that wasn’t all that terrible considering he came out of retirement to battle six All-Stars.
“They’re beatable,” Dempster said. “The challenge is to try and win each pitch. You can’t look at the lineup as a whole.”
As a 5-8 pitcher who uses his small stature as a personal mantra — his “height doesn’t measure heart’’ logo (HDMH) was stitched on his USA sweatshirt — Stroman doesn’t get intimidated.
“I’m confident in my stuff,” he said. “I think if I make my pitch, I can get anybody in the world out. That’s how I’ve always thought. That’s how I always continue to think. I don’t really play into who is in the batter’s box, to be honest with you. So I’m aggressive, I’m confident. I’m ready to go.”
Stroman almost wound up in Guadalajara, Mexico, for the first round because he considered playing for Puerto Rico, a nod to his mom’s heritage. But the reasons for sticking with Team USA won out.
“It was a tough choice,” Stroman said. “At the end of the day, getting that call from Joe Torre, I couldn’t say no. I played for Team USA for the collegiate national team in 2011 — that also had something to do with it. So I feel like in the end, I made the right choice.”