|Drew Storen walks into the dugout after the ninth inning of Game 5. (Photo by AP)|
All Drew Storen had to do was get one strike.
Twice the Nationals had the Cardinals where they wanted them: two strikes and two outs, a two-run lead.
Full count, two outs on Yadier Molina. He walks. Full count, two outs on David Freese. He walks.
Then, with one 94 mile per hour sinker, the Nationals 2012 season began to unravel before the eyes of the largest crowd in stadium history. Daniel Descalso pelted a ground ball off the glove of Ian Desmond, ricocheting into the outfield and scoring two runs to tie the game at seven.
The next batter, rookie Pete Kozma, then made contact with another hard sinker, this time a line drive single into right field. Two runners scored as the Cardinals took their first lead after trailing for three and a half hours and 26 outs.
What had all night seemed so certain, all of a sudden slipped away.
“We had it right there. Most disappointing honestly, is just to let these guys down,” Storen said after collecting himself in the Nationals’ clubhouse.
“With the amount of adversity we dealt with this year, for it to come down to that is pretty tough.”
The 25-year-old Storen was drafted and groomed by the Nationals for this very situation. He was the best closer in college when they took him in 2009 and saved 43 games in 2011. But Friday night was not meant to be, what could have been the most gratifying moment of his career is now something that will carry with him until next season and perhaps beyond.
“It’s part of the job,” he said. “It’s the best job when you’re good at it and it’s the worst job when you fail.”
“There’s a bad taste in my mouth that’s gonna stay there for a couple of months and it’s probably never going to leave.”
Storen sat at his locker for minutes at a time after the Game 5 loss. First in his game worn under shirt, second washed and fully dressed.
Teammates and coaches took turns walking up to console him, but what could be said? Nothing can take away the time he will spend going over those at-bats, those moments, what could have been.
For Storen’s teammates, they chose to focus on the collective feeling of loss. They were devastated just as he was and, after all, no game is really decided on one pitch.
“I don’t know, I don’t know what to tell the guy,” Kurt Suzuki said. "We’re both feeling the same thing.”
“I really don’t know what we would have done differently, to tell you the truth.”
Storen’s roommate and good friend Tyler Clippard pitched the eighth inning and also let Descalso cut the deficit with a solo home run. Clippard stood up for Storen and took ownership himself.
“Obviously Drew feels bad, I feel bad, we’re all pretty devastated right now,” he said. “I don't think it has any difference who did what in the game, we’re all in the same boat.”
Adam LaRoche, perhaps the team’s 2012 most valuable player, still reveres Storen and his future as a closer.
"He's one of the best in the game. We all know it. And I hope he knows that," he said.
"I think the last three outs are the hardest in baseball, and I don't know why it's so much harder than the other eight innings. But something about it. Crazy stuff happens in that ninth inning.”
Ryan Zimmerman affirmed his confidence in Storen as if he were speaking for the franchise as he’s often asked to do.
“Drew will be fine. Drew went through a lot this year,” he said, referring to Storen’s time on the disabled list after elbow surgery.
“I think Drew is going to be a great closer for a long time. He's going to be our guy."
General manager Mike Rizzo ultimately makes those decisions, but says he's seen enough success from Storen to remain in his corner.
“He’s a terrific young player with a bright future as a closer. He’s already proven he can handle the load,” he said.
On what he hopes Storen can take away from this experience, Rizzo was honest and said probably the only thing the young closer really can do to move on.
“Remember how this feels so it doesn’t happen again.”
Storen remembering what happened is probably the last thing he has to worry about.