Marcus Stroman is USA's main man

LOS ANGELES -- Maybe now Marcus Stroman can move forward with being the guy who can, and leave the little-guy-who-could moniker long behind him.

The Toronto Blue Jays starter might be 5-foot-8, but nobody towered over the proceedings more than he did Wednesday.

Stroman took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, ultimately leading the United States to an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. It was Team USA's first title in four WBC tournaments, setting off a confetti-laced celebration at Dodger Stadium.

Thanks to a hitless six innings where he faced the minimum 18 batters over six innings, Stroman went deeper into the game than was planned. He did not mind it one bit.

When Angel Pagan finally stroked a leadoff single to open the seventh inning, Stroman was removed by manager Jim Leyland and the crowd of 51,565 roared its approval of the effort. Stroman rode a confident stride back to the dugout.

"I love pitching in these moments; I love the atmosphere," Stroman said. "I feel like the bigger the game, the more I'm able to get up, the more effective I am. I truly try to pride myself on being a big-game pitcher. This was probably one of the biggest if not the biggest game I've ever pitched in, and that was just a nod to coming off with a lead and giving us an opportunity to win that game."

Stroman gave a shoutout to the defense, which was highlighted by an impressive effort form shortstop Brandon Crawford in particular. But this was about Stroman, changing speeds, keeping the ball down and pounding the strike zone. It was a stark contrast to his previous outing against Puerto Rico in the tournament's second round when he gave up six consecutive hits at one point.

"It's baseball so sometimes those hits fall, sometimes they don't," Stroman said when comparing the most recent outing against Puerto Rico to the one last week. "But I think ultimately I was a little more effective with my location and my sinker. I was down more. Last time I was a little up. I was able to vary timings today."

Stroman's confidence only grew as the game progressed.

"He got the better of us this time," said Puerto Rico's Carlos Correa, who went 0-for-2 against Stroman, and 0-for-3 in the game. "He was good. He messed with our timing today and he was the story."

Stroman could have played in this WBC for either team, since his mother is of Puerto Rican heritage, but said that had nothing to do with his inspiration Wednesday. In 2013, he suggested he might play for Puerto Rico but joined Team USA instead.

"No, I think it's just more emphasis on just winning for America, for the United States," Stroman said, brushing aside a suggestion that beating Puerto Rico made the WBC title even better. "Obviously, this is our first win. We've had a few early exits in the past. So each and every guy came into this with one goal, and that was to win it. There was no one that kind of went about it lackadaisical. Everyone was into every single pitch.

"And we had that pride and faith in every single guy on this team, and we kind of formed a camaraderie over the last two weeks extremely quick. We grew as a unit, and it felt by the end of it that we've been playing for a while. So I love these guys. It was an unbelievable experience, and I'll be back in four years to defend the title."