Opening Day finally has arrived for Marcus Stroman.
"Opening Day but not Opening Day," he said Friday with a smile, "because, I mean, this is the heat of a playoff run."
True. But Stroman, who starred for Patchogue-Medford before graduating in 2009, originally was slated to be the Blue Jays' Opening Day starter at Yankee Stadium in April. He then tore the ACL in his left knee while fielding a bunt during a drill in early March and was expected to miss the entire season.
"I was pretty upset about it," he said. "Just to know I was in contention to be the Opening Day starter and I couldn't make it happen because of injury, and it's in New York. It's almost like that may never happen again, having Opening Day in New York. But I'd much rather be in the position that this team is in and I'm in now than to have had that."
The team is in the midst of a pennant race. And he's back on the mound in what he called the best shape of his life.
After a summer of intense rehab, Stroman recovered well ahead of schedule. In the second game of a doubleheader, he'll take the ball for the first-place Blue Jays late Saturday afternoon and face the second-place Yankees at Yankee Stadium, about 60 miles from his old high school.
Stroman said Toronto manager John Gibbons informed him earlier this week that he'd be making the start in the Bronx. At that point, he felt as if the Opening Day that never was had come full circle.
"I got the chills when he told me," Stroman said. "Just that I get to do it in front of family and friends, back in the big leagues, six months post-ACL surgery at the highest level. It's pretty special."
Stroman beat the Yankees in two of three outings last season during his rookie year, in which he went 11-6 with a 3.65 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 28 walks in 1302/3 innings. The last win that Stroman earned at the major-league level came at Yankee Stadium, when he allowed two runs in six innings and struck out seven in a 6-3 victory on Sept. 20, 2014.
He returns with an improved changeup, a pitch he has worked on extensively; a college degree, having completed summer courses at Duke while rehabbing, and a new appreciation for his body.
"When you get injured, you have to reassess and look at how your entire body works, and that's exactly what I did," the 5-8, 180-pound righthander said. "My body moves more efficiently and loosely than it ever has. I honestly believe this happened for a reason. I couldn't be more happy with where I'm at today."
And where he'll be on Saturday: on the mound at Yankee Stadium, in mid-September, fighting to stay atop the AL East.
"That just shows you how much confidence the Blue Jays have in me," Stroman said. "I have more confidence in me than anybody has in me. I'm just going to go out there, relax, perform like I know I can and do everything in my power to put this team in a position to win inning after inning."
The Blue Jays will bring a 21/2-game lead over the Yankees into Saturday's doubleheader. With each victory, the Blue Jays inch closer to securing a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1993, which would end the longest active postseason drought in the major leagues.
Though Stroman missed a majority of the season, including his own bobblehead day in June, he didn't want to miss out on a chance to be part of the team that ends that streak.
"That's why I had to make it back," he said. "Because what we have is something special. So I put an emphasis on making sure I was back in September this year to be back with the boys. I said to myself I wanted to be a part of it because it could be really special for Toronto. I'm ready."
For his Opening Day.