The Stro Show is looking like it could deserve a longer run on Seaver Way.
Remember a few months back, when everyone was earmarking some of Steve Cohen’s billions for Michael Conforto and Noah Syndergaard? But in the public debate over the Mets’ pending free agents, Marcus Stroman’s name didn’t really generate the same level of feverish extension demands.
Compared to the other two, Stroman still was a relative newcomer to Flushing, despite growing up on Long Island. He also didn’t play the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, so out of sight was out of mind for the year.
But Stroman has pushed himself to the forefront now. And that $18.9-milion qualifying offer that he’s pitching on? Starting to seem like a bargain. It might be time for Cohen to start putting away a few bucks with him in mind. Or wait on that next Picasso. The former Patchogue-Medford star is as important to the surprising success of these first-place Mets as anyone on the roster and Stroman again showed why Saturday by stifling the powerful Padres in a 4-1 victory at Citi Field.
And if you’re having deja vu, there’s a reason. Stroman did the same thing, to the same Padres, just a week earlier at Petco Park, where they apparently didn’t gather enough intel to do any better the next time around.
Or maybe Stroman’s five-pitch arsenal isn’t so easy to read. He prides himself on being unpredictable, dodging patterns whenever possible, always tinkering with speeds and deliveries. On Saturday, Stroman couldn’t have scripted a better game plan in allowing only Fernando Tatis Jr’s solo homer -- a second-deck bomb -- over his 6 1/3-inning stint while matching his season high with eight strikeouts.
"That lineup is incredible, man, honestly," Stroman said. "You have to be locked in from pitch one, truly. You can’t fall into trends, you really can’t be in the heart of the plate with that lineup. You really have to live on the edges and you really have to have a good mix.
"I felt like my mix with [James] McCann in the last outing was pretty good, so we kind of went into it with the same mentality. And then as the game progressed, we kind of changed things here and there. But for the most part, my mentality is always to go out there and compete."
Stroman trimmed his ERA to 2.33, the lowest of any 13-start stretch in his career and also currently ranked 14th in the majors. He has a 1.74 ERA over his last five outings and has now completed at least six innings in seven straight starts, a feat that he’s never done previously.
After Saturday’s win, Stroman showed up with a Mets-customized WWE belt draped over his shoulder, a reward for being pitcher of the game. But his value to this team has extended far beyond that, especially with Carlos Carrasco (hamstring) a maybe for around the All-Star break and Syndergaard pencilled in (at best) for September.
"He was nasty," manager Luis Rojas said. "Everything was moving the right way. His stuff was crisp. You had to look to the board so see the velocity because you won’t know which pitch it was. I mean, everything was just moving."
Stroman repeatedly got the Padres to pound his sinker into the turf, and when they didn’t, he tricked them into missing the sliders, cutters and splitters. Through the first 14 outs, seven were Ks and seven were groundouts (including two double plays). The first fly-ball out wasn’t until Victor Caratini’s hard-hit liner was snared on the run by Mason Williams to end the fifth inning.
To recap, Stroman has now held the Padres to one earned run over 13 innings and struck out 15 over that span in beating them twice in a week. And as much as he demoralized the Padres, the closer-to-capacity crowd at Citi Field (25,463) danced right along with Stroman, with every shimmy, K-strut and mound hop. The self-styled Stroman considers himself a big-stage performer, and he’s lived up to that billing through the first 10 weeks of this season.
"Stro’s an unbelievable pitcher," said Francisco Lindor, who supplied most of the offensive with his two-run homer in the first inning. "He keeps us on our toes."
Stroman allowed six hits overall, but the first five were singles before Tatis finally dented him with the 408-foot blast leading off the seventh inning. After getting Eric Hosmer for another groundout, his day ended with a walk to Wil Myers. As Stroman headed for the dugout, the fans rose to give him a standing ovation, and he gave them some applause right back before reaching the dugout steps.
If Stroman keeps this up, he’s increasing the chances Cohen could be waiting with a big check at the end of the season.