There was a lot to dissect after the Nationals 4-3 victory over the Mets. The main storyline of the night was new father Ian Desmond returning from paternity leave and hitting a triple and a solo home run to lead the way for Washington.
But Drew Storen’s ninth inning shouldn’t be overlooked. One night after left-hander Sean Burnett suffered his worst outing of the season in a bullpen meltdown that cost the Nationals the game, Storen came out and delivered a scoreless ninth in a one-run game to seal the victory and pick up his fourth save of the season.
After Mets’ catcher Josh Thole singled with two outs and pinch runner Chin-lung Hu stole second base, Storen was forced to face former teammate Willie Harris as the potential go-ahead run for New York. Storen worked Harris to a 3-2 count before catcher Ivan Rodriguez called for a slider that Harris swung and missed on to end the game.
“That’s what I wanted,” Storen said of the breaking pitch. “It goes a long way of showing how well Pudge knows me and that’s amazing because I haven’t really thrown to him for that long. With the base open there, I don’t want to give Willie something to hit. I’m just trying to make a quality pitch. If I throw a fastball there and I leave it up, he’ll make me pay for it.
“I haven’t really faced a teammate before, just being kind of new in the big leagues, so I knew that he knew what I was trying to do there so that kind of added to it.”
Storen needed just 14 pitches to retire the Mets, even though he faced four batters. Manager Jim Riggleman said after the game that he was impressed with Storen’s breaking pitches.
“He threw the ball great,” Riggleman said. “He’s got a really good breaking ball and he threw a really nasty one to end the game there. That was real special what he was doing out there tonight.”
– Livan Hernandez’s eight-inning, 105-pitch performance is also certainly worth mentioning. It was the longest outing of the season for Hernandez, who displayed his usual precision in only walking one batter and striking out five, but also aided the Nationals victory with his 1-for-2 night at the plate.
It was a performance that made Storen’s desire to pick up the save even greater.
“I want to do well, but really, in the end, I don’t want to waste their effort and that’s kind of what it comes down to. That’s a great game by both (Hernandez and Desmond) and those are two huge performances to really pick up the two tough ones that we started with. Livo pitches well and hits well and gives an all-around good effort you don’t want to lose that.”
Hernandez’s contributions with the bat included an RBI — which came on a sacrifice bunt in the fourth inning. The bunt, which was a dribbler that died almost directly in front of the plate but toward the first base side, scored Jerry Hairston Jr. from third but he was assisted greatly in getting home by Hernandez’s deliberately slow break out of the box.
Hernandez said after the game that that’s the way the play is designed — for him to slow up Thole to ensure that the play at home is not an easy one for him to make.
“I do that play before,” Hernandez said. “This is the way I do it. When the bunt doesn’t go too far, I’ve got to wait so the catcher can’t go and catch the ball faster and throw (the runner) out easily or make the out at home plate.”
Hernandez said he wasn’t concerned that the umpire would call him for obstruction. Home plate umpire Brian Runge told Thole that it would need to be obvious that the runner slowed up for him to call obstruction and Hernandez basically intimated that there’s no real way for them to tell him he’s too slow out of the box and, if the catcher were to push him, it’d be interference by the catcher, not Hernandez.
– Jose Reyes has been tormenting the Nationals all series with his speed on the basepaths. While the Nationals caught a break on Wednesday night when Reyes was called out at third base on an admitted blown call by the umpire, they needed no such luck in the seventh inning Thursday night.
Instead, with Reyes attempting a two-out steal of second base in a one-run game, all the Nationals needed was the arm of Rodriguez to gun him down.
“To be able to throw him out, I think, was key,” Rodriguez said after the game. “It was late in the game and everybody knows that Reyes, when he’s in scoring position, any base hit and he’s going to score. It was a good throw.”
“It was a changeup outside and he made a good throw,” Hernandez said. “It’s a great throw. Pudge, everybody knows that he can throw the ball.”
When asked later about the strength of his throwing arm, which Rodriguez has displayed several times this season already but may get less opportunity to do so as the Nationals make the transition from the future Hall of Famer to Wilson Ramos.
“I always got a good arm,” Rodriguez said. “I take a lot of pride in my defense. I have things that I do very well but my main priority in my game is defense. I want to get my pitchers to have a great game, calling a good game for them. I’ve been doing that for 20 some years. I take a lot of pride in that.
“(My arm) feels very good today. I made a very, very good throw. I’m not going to lie to you, that was a missile that I threw to second base.”
As the Nationals continued on in the one-run game, that throw proved to be an important one and solidified, somewhat, Riggleman’s decision to continue to keep Rodriguez in the lineup on a fairly regular basis despite the fact that he’s hitting just .200 on the season while Ramos continues his hot start with a .375 average.
“Pudge is really special behind the plate,” Riggleman said. “I just want to utilize him. You try to utilize every player on the ballclub and get the most out of each of them. I think we saw with Ramos in the spring, we don’t want him to have consecutive days off. (But) Pudge has just been outstanding and we talk about Reyes, he’s at the top of his game. He’s really playing good baseball and Pudge made a great throw to get him.”