Marcus Stroman is the type of presence the Mets have needed and their fans have craved. He is the kind of pitcher who can make the top of the first inning seem like the bottom of the ninth.
We saw that, and definitely heard that, Friday night at Citi Field. This was sure to be a big game against the Nationals, the most significant one the Mets have had in three years. Stroman helped make it an occasion.
The only question, really, after one of the most exhilarating wins the Mets have had in ages, was whether Stroman fed off the fans’ energy or vice versa. Or maybe it is not a question at all, because at heart, the pitcher from Patchogue-Medford High School is one of them. He dipped deep into Mets culture for the word to describe it:
“Amazing, man,” he said after a four-run ninth produced a special kind of 7-6 win. “From the second I walked out there, it was a playoff atmosphere. The crowd brought it.”
As for his role in getting the excitement going, Stroman said, “It’s authentic. It’s who I am. I’m just happy to be here. It’s a great vibe we have on this team.”
He did his part for the vibe in his first home start as a Met by showing up at the ballpark in a Darryl Strawberry No. 18 Mets jersey. He did it by getting a hand when he jogged to the bullpen to begin his pregame warmup. He did it when he responded to louder cheers on his way back in by clapping for the fans. He did it by drawing roars for striking out five consecutive batters and by getting out of a tense jam in the sixth.
And he did it just by being on the roster. The fact that the Mets acquired him before the trade deadline made them a different kind of team, one that believes it can compete now, one that can draw 39,602 on a Friday night in August.
That the Mets acquired one of the best pitchers available rather than making some of their own best pitchers available said something. “It reinforces to the group that we intend to win and we intend to try to continue to put every ounce of our effort into giving this team, now and going forward, a chance to be competitive and we’re not going to mail anything in,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen said.
But Stroman is more than some rotisserie figure. He is not just one of the “pieces” about whom baseball lingo refers (personally, I prefer the term “people”). He has sparkle and sizzle.
“When he walked out of the dugout to warm up, it started to get a little crazy,” manager Mickey Callaway said after Todd Frazier tied it with a three-run homer in the ninth and Michael Conforto won it with a two-out hit. “He was pumping his hands up, getting the crowd excited. This is 35 minutes before the game starts . . . He battles, there’s no doubt about it. I think our team has that personality and there is no doubt Marcus Stroman has that personality.”
It would help if Stroman’s pitching becomes more like his fellow Mets starters. The new guy was better on Friday than he had been last Saturday but still was not great: six innings, nine hits, four runs, three walks, nine strikeouts, one home run allowed.
“Overall, I think I should have been better,” he said.
Still, there is more to the Mets now that Stroman is here. On Friday, he evoked loud “Let’s Go Mets!” chants in the first. He brought out the baritones (late Newsday colleague Marty Noble’s term for robust, from-the-gut cheers heard in pennant races). This pitcher’s presence means the Mets are going for it. Friday night was lively and fun at Citi Field. Fans chanted “Let’s Go Mets!” again on their way to the exits.
Their team, bolstered by the Stroman trade, is playing meaningful games in August, something that seemed impossible in mid-July.