PHILADELPHIA — Drew Storen needed 24 pitches to save the Nationals’ 4-3 victory in the opener of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday afternoon. He needed more pitches than he has in all but seven other games this season to wriggle out of a leadoff double and an intentional walk to earn his 39th save of the season.
Then he needed to figure out how he could bounce back and do it again about five hours later.
“I’ve never pitched twice in one day,” Storen said. “I’ll be honest with you, waking up this morning, it’s not something I expected to do.”
But there Storen was, asking his teammates for advice between games on how to proceed, telling his manager that he was ready (“I want the ball in the ninth inning with the game on the line,” he told Nationals manager Davey Johnson) and running in from the bullpen at Citizens Bank Park in the bottom of the ninth inning to face the top of the Phillies order in a three-run game. There he was, standing on the same mound he’d stood on a few hours earlier, looking for his 40th save of the season.
He only needed about half the pitches he required in the first game, disposing of Jimmy Rollins in three with a fly out to right field, needing six to catch Placido Polanco looking on a slider and four more to fool Shane Victorino into flailing at a slider for strike three and the ballgame. He ended the night with a nice round number: 40.
“It was kind of a goal of mine once I started closing,” Storen said of the milestone that puts him in rarified air, joining Chad Cordero as the only Nationals closer ever to reach the mark.
“I wasn’t really sure if I was going to get it. I didn’t know how I was going to be able to adapt to (being a closer) and do it over the long haul of the season. It’s kind of been a learning process the whole way. I’m really happy to get it but I know there’s still some left. It’s going to be a good building block for me.”
This has been quite a year for Storen, though it may occasionally go unnoticed with the hoopla that surrounds the Nationals’ other young talent. For a guy who sat in the video room in Viera, Fla., at spring training pouring over video, searching for an answer, trying to find the reason why he couldn’t seem to get anyone out, 40 saves is a pinnacle that could not have seemed more out of reach.
Even when the lights came on and the season began, Storen wasn’t thrown into the closer’s role. It was a shared situation, split between Storen, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett but it didn’t take long for Storen to make it his own.
By knocking off two for the price of one on Tuesday, Storen became just the sixth closer in the major leagues this year to earn 40 or more saves. He joins Jose Valverde, Mariano Rivera, Craig Kimbrel, John Axford and J.J. Putz on that list. He also happens to be the only closer in all of MLB to reach the mark while not on a playoff-contending team. (UPDATE: Heath Bell joined this club as well late Tuesday night so there are now seven and two for non-playoff-contending teams). The Nationals have 74 victories and Storen has saved 54 percent of them.
The Nationals had a banner day on Tuesday with the best major league performance of Ross Detwiler’s career coming just hours after Tommy Milone’s command outing. But it’d be completely remiss to note those two accomplishments (along with two wins and Danny Espinosa’s 20th home run of the season) without mentioning the role Storen had to play in them.
There has been only one occasion this entire season where Storen, who’s appeared in 70 games, told his manager that he might need a day off. In earning his benchmark save (and the one preceeding it) on Tuesday night, he most likely ensured himself of needing one on Wednesday. But from the sound of things, he’d hold out until absolutely necessary in making that decision.
“Tomorrow?” he asked. “I haven’t even thought about it yet. We’ll see. I’ll sleep in and we’ll see how it feels.”