The mob of reporters in rain jackets they no longer needed and cameras encased in plastic bags drifted away from Drew Storen.
The pitcher sat facing his locker in the early hours of Saturday morning, sandals on, staring at his phone. Frozen.
Rolled-up plastic tarps hung around him in the Washington Nationals clubhouse. Muffled words. Hugs. Dull thuds from back slaps. Red eyes staring at carpet supposed to soak up champagne that, instead, sat dry.
Thirty-three pitches, 33 bits of agony kept Storen company. This is the other side of October.
“I just didn’t execute,” he said.
The words of Storen’s entrance song barely faded from Nationals Park before they were replaced by the whine of leaf-blowers collecting trash and the end of a season:
And that’s why they call me
I can’t deny
Bad Bad Company till the day I die
Until the day I die
As midnight hit and the first 94 mile per hour fastball left Storen’s right hand in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, the song screamed hope to Nationals Park. One inning — and the middle of the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup — separated the Nationals from the National League Championship Series.
One inning turned into one strike.
Surgery to remove a bone chip in his right elbow sidelined Storen until July. The 25-year-old who saved 43 games last season finally regained his old closer’s job in September. Storen craves the ninth inning’s pressure.
“It’s the best job when you’re good at it,” Storen said, “and it’s the worst job when you fail.”