Photo by Rachel Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
All eyes were on Stephen Strasburg once again.
And today, the rookie reliever played a new role in Strasburg's life: The guy who bailed him out of a tight jam.
Make no mistake about it, Strasburg's performance against the Indians would have looked a lot less impressive had Storen not deftly pitched his way out of the sixth inning, stranding the bases loaded, preserving the Nationals' lead and saving the game for his good friend.
"I wouldn't say I saved it," Storen insisted. "But it was good to come into that tight spot. I enjoy that tight spot, and I was just glad to get out of it."
These two first-round draft picks -- selected just nine spots from each other last summer -- will always be linked, and that's a good thing. Strasburg gets all the attention and hype, but he's got very little personality and shies away from the spotlight. Storen, meanwhile, hasn't gotten nearly as much press but is perfectly comfortable in front of cameras and reporters.
Together, they're bringing plenty of positive news to a Nationals organization that used to serve as baseball's punching bag but now is among the sport's best stories.
In the last five days, baseball fans around the country have gotten to know not only Strasburg, but Storen, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn, Josh Willingham and Ian Desmond. And they've all taken advantage of the attention and put together impressive performances at the right times.
"Obviously the more national notoriety [Strasburg] gets, the team will get," said Dunn, who has homered in both of the rookie's starts. "That's great for the organization. But what's really good is: Instead of playing in front of 15,000, you're playing in front of 35,000-40,000. That's a lot more fun."
Fans in Cleveland certainly turned out in big numbers today. The crowd of 32,876 was at least 10,000 more than would have attended this game had Strasburg not been pitching, and included 3,823 fans who walked up to the ballpark this morning and bought tickets on-site.
The crowd also included new Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, who sat not in a luxury box or in the front row behind the Indians' dugout but in the section reserved for Nationals family members. McCoy, you see, is friends from Dunn (a former Texas quarterback himself) and came as a guest of the Nats, not the Indians.
So, he came out just to see Strasburg, right?
"He didn't even know who he was," Dunn said.
"Why are you laughing?" he asked with a straight face.
Wait, you're serious?
"No. Of course he knows who he is."
There isn't a sports fan in the country who hasn't heard of Strasburg at this point. He debut last week was front-page news everywhere. His every move shows up on SportsCenter. His jersey was everywhere in the stands today. And the bandwagon will only continue to roll on, stopping every five days to pick up more followers.
Strasburg, of course, still remains relatively oblivious to it all. Maybe he does understand what's going on, but he's making a point not to pay any attention to it.
"I've never been really one to just read all the stuff and watch everything," he said. "I'm still watching TV. I'm just not watching those channels."
If he does start watching, Strasburg will see that his newfound stardom has brought newfound attention to his teammates and his franchise. The Nationals are awash in good press right now, and as long as they keep performing at respectable levels, they will continue to reap the benefits of the sport's hottest newcomer.
"It's funny," Storen said. "Usually in the minor leagues, when somebody would come in the game [to replace Strasburg], the fans would leave. This is one of the few times they stayed."
Yes, the fans are turning out for Strasburg. Television networks are clamoring to pick up every one of his starts.
But along the way, they're getting a nice glimpse at what the Nationals have become: One of baseball's most-interesting, young teams, one with a real future (whether it's this year, next year or two years down the road).
Strasburg can't do it alone. Today, he needed Storen's bailout and an offensive surge from his teammates.
But he's driving this ship right now. Everyone else is along for the ride. And it promises to be one really enjoyable trip.