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Marcus Stroman first caught real notice back in early March, when it was announced that the pitcher was done for the year after a bizarre knee injury.

Stroman had been up with the Jays the previous season, and shown remarkable promise.

But while he was being excellent, the team was doing its usual slow swoon into playoff elimination and the off-season. It was hard to get too excited about any one player.

When he blew his ACL in a spring training fielding drill, you were struck by the magnitude of the reaction from the Jays. By his own low-key standards, general manager Alex Anthopoulos was bereft. He spoke of "mourning" Stroman's injury, as if it had been a small death.

Later, Anthopoulos would say Stroman was the player Toronto could least afford to lose. In that sense, Stroman has sneaked up on Toronto baseball. We knew he'd be good. We didn't know the team valued him so highly, or that he could be this good, this quickly.

Whenever they end, the 2015 playoffs have created any number of moments and heroic snapshots. Three months from now, you'll remember the bat flip and the three-run double and Ryan Goins celebrating a very good day after a very bad one.

But once it all recedes a bit and is allowed to come into distant focus, the key figure that emerges from the past six weeks is Stroman.

He is more than the hero Jays fans didn't know they needed. He's the one they didn't realize they had.

Even his manager is only just now coming around to exactly what Stroman offers the Jays.

"Every time you turn around, there's Stroman; here comes Stroman," John Gibbons said before Friday's Game 6. "If we win tonight, there he is again in a key moment."

You'd think it's bad juju to speak about the next day's game when there may be no 'next day'. Kansas City chose not to let its Game 7 starter, Johnny Cueto, speak to the media. Stroman was happy to risk it.

At his best, he is so giddy he fairly vibrates with repressed energy. When the moment calls for sobriety – as it did three hours before Friday night's game – he crouches down and holds his hands together under the table, so as not to lapse into excessive exuberance.

Somehow, pushing out a 24-year-old with a career total of 27 big-league starts to hype their chances is the most reassuring thing the Jays could do.

Stroman registered low on the swagger scale. The Jays have been money in elimination games through this run (4-0) and terrible otherwise (1-5), but this wasn't time to start risking fate. Stroman spoke in terms of possibilities – "hoping it gets to that point."

He gave a half-eulogy to his unlikely comeback: "I kept good faith the entire time. … This still feels like a dream to me, now. Still feels like I haven't woken up this entire summer. Everything has worked out perfectly."

He has the luxury of wistfulness for something that's not yet over because, for Stroman, this really is just a beginning. If all goes as it should, he will be a cornerstone of the Toronto organization for the next decade. Like all 24-year-olds, he believes he will do this again and again.

And you know what? He probably can.

Nobody in baseball has been surprised by Jose Bautista or Josh Donaldson over the past couple of weeks. They've been good. Not Daniel Murphy good, but good enough.

Bizarrely, Stroman has taken a lot of the pressure off everyone else. For a team that's all about offence, all the pre-game talking points have been pitching.

Marco Estrada has been remarkable, but he's the guy who arrests the slides. Stroman is the one who pushes them back up hills in win-or-go-home games. Two months ago, he wasn't supposed to be here. Now, in terms of chess pieces, he's the Queen.

Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, Mark Lowe et al. helped transform the psyche of this team, but there is no doubt that Stroman is Toronto's key second-half acquisition.

He's still going to need help going forward. He's already thinking of that, too. Stroman issued a fairly audible dog whistle to free agent Price: "I can't put into words how crucial he is to our clubhouse, how crucial he is to our camaraderie. He's the glue that gets everyone going. He's the man behind it all."

It probably won't work. You'd bet a lot of money that Price will leave. Which means Stroman is the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays.

To recall a Jays pitcher in that position – homegrown, this good, this young – you have to reach back to Dave Stieb. While Stieb was a human deflector shield off the diamond, Stroman has his arms wide open at all times. In short order, he could be the biggest thing on the Toronto sports landscape. 'Short order' could come as soon as Saturday night.

At the end, Stroman was asked how the crowd affects him. Most pitchers will say they don't notice. They're too in the moment. Others will say the generalized cacophony of a large crowd is easier to block out than the individual voices of a small one.

Risking fate again, Stroman says he can hear them regardless. He wants to hear them.

"Whether it's love or hate, just being able to channel all that energy into pitching, it's fun. I love it. I love being in little ballparks and having huge crowds and everyone being against you. It kind of brings out the best."

Over the career that is now stretched out before him, he'll get lots of chances. Donaldson is the best player on the Toronto Blue Jays. Considering their strengths (hitting) and weaknesses (starting pitching), Stroman has become the most valuable. It reminds you that even in a game as slow moving and inertial as baseball, a whole lot can happen in six weeks.