Even if he weren’t one of the most-sought-after pitchers expected to be on the trading block, even if he weren’t from New York and anxious to prove that he is built for the bright lights of the city, Marcus Stroman still could have found his place in the hearts of Yankees fans because of his actions this past weekend.
Facing the Red Sox on Sunday at Fenway Park, Stroman struck out Eduardo Nuñez, the final batter in his six scoreless innings, and he screamed. He then bounced off the mound and into the Blue Jays’ dugout.
He later found out that Red Sox broadcaster Dennis Eckersley criticized him, calling his act tired. Stroman retaliated with a retweet of 17 seconds of ESPN Classic footage detailing Eckersley’s own mound celebrations and the word “hypocrite” over it.
Is there really any further evidence needed that the Yankees, in search of a front-line starter to face off in the postseason against the likes of Justin Verlander, would be a perfect fit for Stroman, who happens to be pretty certain that he’ll be auctioned off by the rebuilding Blue Jays?
Is the 5-7 righthander the answer to the Yankees’ problems? While it may seem hard to consider anything a problem, given that the Yankees have won nine of their last 10 games and are 50-28 after Monday night’s 10-8 victory over the Blue Jays, Sunday’s 9-4 loss to Verlander and the Astros did provide a reminder that postseason pitching matters more than a 27-game home run streak.
There are other names that will come up from struggling teams — maybe even from the other New York team, which is going through plenty of issues of its own. But Stroman likely is available, and maybe most important, he is built for this.
“I love it. New York’s like the mecca of the world, right?” Stroman said. “So I love excitement. I love bright lights. I love competition. I love pressure. So I’ve always loved pitching here. Even though I haven’t necessarily pitched fairly well here, I’ve always enjoyed it.
“These Yankee lineups are brutal. They’re hard to kind of navigate. I love the spotlight, I’ve always loved it, the bigger the moment that’s kind of where I’ve always wanted to be.”
But those bright lights can be blinding at times. Pressure has swallowed up pitchers with better resumes than Stroman’s. With the former Patchogue-Medford star back in his hometown this week, he may have glanced at the back pages of the papers and noticed the trouble that pressure is causing for the Mets.
“Yeah, I’m built for this,” he said. “Anybody can say whatever, but I’m built for the bright lights and the moment. I’m not scared of it. I’ve never been. I’ll take that ball each and every time with the pressure on. I love it.”
Stroman finished eighth in the Cy Young balloting in 2017. He is 5-9 this year but has a 3.04 ERA. He has started five postseason games, and he lived up to the moment in Boston.
“Fun, extremely fun,” he said of pitching in that environment. “Boston is one of the best places to play. Just their fans, it’s one of the most historic ballparks. Obviously, going against that lineup, it’s a beautiful day, it was a Sunday and it was packed from the second I walked out there. It was exciting.
“I was excited to pitch there. That lineup one through nine is crazy. So the fact that I let out a little ‘Yeah!’ at the end, I don’t think that’s a big sign of disrespect or anything. To be able to navigate that lineup, post six shutout innings], it’s extremely difficult. I worked extremely hard to put myself in that position, so it’s more a fact of having fun and just celebrating the moment.”
“His stuff makes him what he is as a pitcher,” Toronto reliever and former Yankee David Phelps said. “The fire takes him to another level. He’s one of those guys that has the ability to elevate his game in bigger situations. He loves the competition. He really feeds off of it.
“He’s done it on a big stage. I don’t think the stage is ever going to be an issue for him . . . You watch the way he pitches, he’s got a lot of confidence in himself. Sometimes people have a problem with it. They’re going to come at him and he’s going to go right back. You watch the way he competes, he’s that same way.”
The Yankees would take it, that enthusiasm about shutting down the Red Sox and the ability to serve as a front-line starter for a staff in need of one. He is signed through next season, giving the Yankees assurance that this is not just a rental — not that he sounds as if he’d be anxious to leave New York.
Stroman, 28, still has family on Long Island, even though he makes Florida his home. He sounded as if he’d like to make the Bronx his baseball home.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to kind of grasp,” he said. “Obviously I’m on the Blue Jays and embodying and love everything about Toronto and playing for this organization. So I truly just try to keep that out of the back of my head, as hard as it is, because obviously you hear rumors all the time.
“Obviously, I’m from New York,” he said. “I’m a New York boy. So I think that says everything for itself.”