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Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman says he was raised with a ‘huge chip’ on his shoulder, and that gives him confidence.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

He has always defied the naysayers – haters is how he would refer to them – even as he was growing up, hearing repeatedly that he was too small to be a professional baseball pitcher.

And when he ripped up his knee during spring training last March and had to have what doctors insisted was season-ending surgery, Marcus Stroman once again refused to listen to the so-called conventional wisdom. Not only has he continued to prove his detractors wrong, he has relished the challenge. Tilting at windmills has become second nature to this strong-willed 24-year-old from Stony Brook, N.Y.

"Stro just exudes greatness, confidence, belief – whatever word you want to use to try to describe him," said Chris Colabello, a teammate of Stroman's on the Toronto Blue Jays. "He's all of that. Watching him pitch brings energy to the fans, brings energy to us. He is who he is for a reason. People are drawn to him, and I look forward to watching him go out and pitch."

Stroman will do that on Wednesday, when the Toronto Blue Jays take the field against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre in the deciding game of their American League Division Series, a back-and-forth, best-of-five affair in which the visiting team so far has held all the cards.

The series is deadlocked at two-games apiece, and on Wednesday it is win-or-go-home time.

The Blue Jays could very well have lined up David Price, a five-time Major League Baseball All-Star and perennial Cy Young Award candidate as the game's top pitcher, to start in the game.

Instead, the team opted to go with Stroman, whose poise in pressure-packed situations made the decision rather easy for the Blue Jays, to pin their hopes on a young neophyte who will be making just his second postseason appearance.

Stroman will be opposing Cole Hamels, a veteran left-hander who led the Philadelphia Phillies to the 2008 World Series title, earning most-valuable-player laurels in the process.

On paper, it seems like a mismatch, with the polished Hamels going up against a still wet-behind-the-ears upstart who has won just 15 games over his two seasons of big-league ball.

"Oh, shoot … you really just look where he's come back from this year and the games he's pitched," Toronto manager John Gibbons said when asked about the faith he has in Stroman. "Really, every game he's pitched since he's been back has been a meaningful game for this team.

"I don't think it really surprises anybody who knows him, who's been around him. He's got a great arm, he's got great stuff, whatever you want to call it. But there's something different about him, too. And I expect if anybody can rise to the occasion, it would be him."

Everything Stroman does, he oozes confidence, and the glare of the spotlight is not something he avoids.

From the cut of his clothes and his two-toned hairstyle to the way he will often side-hop his way off the mound after recording a big third out, Stroman not only attracts attention, he revels in it.

"I would say I'm confident," Stroman said Tuesday at Rogers Centre, where the Blue Jays held an optional workout in preparation for Game 5. "Some people may call it cocky. It is what it is. It's something that my dad kind of raised me with, a huge chip on my shoulder.

"I'm not scared to say that I'm extremely confident. That's something I pride myself on. That's the reason I'm at where I'm at."

Listed – generously, some would say – at 5 foot 8, Stroman said his father, Earl, a New York police detective, always told him stature is not a deterrent to success.

"He always told me I'm going to be the smallest guy in the room, so I have to be the most confident," Stroman said. "That's something that I kind of pitch with today."

During spring training, Stroman tore a ligament in his left knee while fielding a routine grounder in practice, and had to have the surgery that would end his season.

Stroman was having none of that, and immersed himself in a strenuous rehabilitation program while completing his undergrad degree at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Colabello was asked when he first thought Stroman might make it back to the lineup in 2015.

"The day he got hurt," he said. "I've known Stro from the outside looking in for a couple years now, played against him in Double A, heard a lot about him. He's like a little brother to me now.

"I wouldn't put anything past that kid. The day he got hurt he said, 'I'm pitching this year.' So I said, 'Okay, I believe you.'"

Against all odds, Stroman made it back to the Blue Jays lineup in September, and he played a big role in securing Toronto its first American League East title in 22 years, going 4-0 down the stretch in four starts.

In the playoffs against Texas, Stroman got the start in Game 2 and pitched well, allowing four runs (three earned) off five hits over seven innings in a contest the Rangers would win 6-4 in 14 innings.

Stroman said he can't wait to get back out there again.

"I enjoy the pressure, I enjoy the spotlight," he said. "This is a big stage, and I'm just excited to be out there."