- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2014

Nationals reliever Drew Storen watched from the bullpen as teammate Tyler Clippard tried in vain to put the relentless St. Louis Cardinals away late in Friday’s game at Nationals Park.

But after twenty five pitches in the eighth inning, with his team ahead by two runs, Clippard still hadn’t recorded an out. Runners stood at first and second and a relentless Jhonny Peralta fouled off one pitch after another.

By the time Clippard retired him on a comebacker that smashed off his body, his arm was exhausted. Enter Storen, who stared down his own checkered history against St. Louis and retired two of its best hitters to smother the threat and help secure a 3-1 Washington win at Nationals Park on Friday.

“Nothing goes as planned [in the bullpen]. That’s kind of the fun part about it,” Storen said. “You’re always on your toes no matter what. You get the adrenaline going a little bit, change it up. Anytime you can go out there and save another guy’s run, that’s pretty fun.”

Storen was the mound and lost the game when the Nats began this eight-game losing streak to the Cardinals in that infamous Game 5 of the NL Division Series in 2012. He wasn’t thinking about that on Friday.

Instead, he had to figure a way to retire Matt Holliday and Allen Craig, St. Louis‘ No. 3 and No. 4 batters. He retired Holliday on a two-seam fastball that drove in on his hands and resulted in a foul out to Adam LaRoche at first base. Craig then grounded out to shortstop on the fourth pitch he saw from Storen.

“Drew has closed before, so he understands those types of situations,” Washington manager Matt Williams said. “He’s been the guy in the ninth inning. He’s comfortable seventh, eighth or ninth. I would imagine there’d be a time this year where [closer Rafael Soriano has] thrown three in a row and not available where Drew will have to close it out, too. He’s ready at any time.”

All of that meant the Nats (10-7) snapped their long losing streak against the Cardinals and gave a jolt of confidence to a team that made four errors in an ugly 8-0 loss on Thursday. This time it was St. Louis that played sloppy, committing three errors with a wild pitch from young starter Michael Wacha, who had handcuffed Washington much of the night.

But a leadoff single by LaRoche and another by Ian Desmond to start the seventh had the Nats in business. Danny Espinosa pushed a bunt towards the mound to advance the runners and Wacha’s throw to third base to nab the slow LaRoche ticked off the glove of Matt Carpenter, who received the error.

Wacha settled down to retire the next two batters with the bases loaded, but with rookie Zach Walters up, he then bounced a pitch past catcher Yadier Molina and two runs scored to give the Nats the 3-1 lead they needed.

“[Molina] is smart. They obviously watched the games in Miami. They know he’s (Walters) good on fastballs,” Desmond said. “He’s got a good changeup, Wacha, and I was just kind of anticipating. The third baseman was playing off the bag, I could get a little bit bigger of a secondary (lead). You don’t ever expect Yadi to let one get away. And then I saw it bounce off a little bit. I said, ‘We’ve got to take a chance here.’ And fortunately for us, it worked out.”

Wacha (2-1, 1.73 ERA) had allowed just four runners to reach base before that frame, one of them after a solo home run by Anthony Rendon in the third inning and another on an infield error. That mistake was quickly erased with a double play.

Washington starter Gio Gonzalez (3-1, 2.88 ERA) had to match Wacha and did. Gonzalez escaped an early jam in the first inning and kept St. Louis to just one run despite three hits allowed in the fourth. But he struck out the final two batters of that inning and retired the final 11 he faced overall.

“You have to go out there and try to match [Wacha] up. He’s just a tough guy to beat,” Gonzalez said. “You could see it. His ball was coming at you firm and just one of those guys. It’s fun to watch, but at the same time it’s part of baseball. You’ve got to go out there and try to keep it together and keep your team back in the dugout and let them go out there and compete against a guy like that.”