Before Friday night, it would have been hard to pinpoint how Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen was best known around the baseball world.
Was it for the 43 saves he made for the Nats in 2011 before hurting his arm? The Batmobile he drives? Heading back to Stanford to get his degree after leaving early to be the 10th pick in the 2009 draft? The enthusiasm and approachability that have made him a fan favorite ever since his first spring training?
It's hard to say, but after Friday night's Game 5 of the NLDS, the first thing mentioned after the 25-year-old's name was unfortunately streamlined. He's the closer who put the finishing touches on the biggest do-or-die collapse in baseball history, presiding over a four-run inning that saw the St. Louis Cardinals steal the NLDS at the last possible moment with a 9-7 win.
The list of pitchers known for blowing postseason games is one that can be recited without much memory searching: Ralph Branca. Donnie Moore. Mitch Williams. Brad Lidge. Neftali Feliz. And now the always friendly and chatty Drew Storen, who, as Sports Illustrated's Pablo Torre tweeted, "did not deserve this, cosmically."
[Les Carpenter: Historic Cards comeback keeps Nats from sipping bubbly]
No one on that list "cosmically" deserved their moment, of course. It's just the nature of baseball. Sooner or later, Storen was going to go through a crazy appearance like giving up a leadoff double, getting the next two outs, getting one strike away from each of the next two batters before walking them and then giving up back-to-back two RBI singles. It just so happened that the righthander's implosion came at the worst possible time, facing the best zombie team in baseball and in front of a partisan Nationals Park crowd that was just waiting to party before the bottom dropped out.
This is what Storen's view looked like after the game as the media sought answers:
"I've got a bad taste in my mouth that's going to stay there for a couple of months," Storen said. "It's probably never going to leave."
"We had it right there, and the most disappointing thing, honestly, is I just let these guys down. For the amount of adversity that we dealt with this year, to come down to that is pretty tough."
All credit goes to Storen for standing in front of his locker to answer questions. That was something Neftali Feliz of the Texas Rangers couldn't do after getting blitzed by these never-say-die Cardinals in Game 6 of the World Series. One can only imagine what Storen was thinking, how hard it's going to be to fight off the disappointment all winter long or all of the questions he's going to have to field about it next spring in Viera.
The truth, however, is that Storen doesn't have much to hang his head about. He had given up only one run over his previous 19 appearances for the Nationals and had been named with fellow reliever Tyler Clippard as one of the Nats' best pitchers in the NLDS on Friday morning by the Washington Post. Each of the four Nats pitchers who pitched at least an inning in Game 5 allowed at least one run, so it wasn't just Storen's fault.
That was something Storen's teammates tried to console him with, as documented in this excellent column by Mike Wise of the Washington Post:
"I've been in the situation," Tyler Clippard told him. Storen's roommate and closest friend on the team, the guy he played leapfrog with as the Nats' closer all season as Storen battled back from injury, sat inches from him, pulling his chair around to face him.
"I told him I do it all the time. You tend to put it all on your shoulders and think, 'I lost the game for us.' And he's got to realize it's not all on him. It's a team game. There was five runs on the board when he took the mound. It's going to take him a while, but you just got to know in your heart it's not all on you. That's what I told him."
Going forward, it'll be helpful for Storen to remember that two Hall of Famers — Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera (eventually) — were on the wrong end of famous postseason meltdowns and that they still achieved careers that kept them off that listed I previously mentioned. The main difference, though, is that both of those guys had already achieved a great deal of success in their careers and so it must have been easier for them to bounce back from that disappointment. This was Storen's first really big moment in the national baseball spotlight and so it'd be understandable if it takes him awhile to get over it.
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