SAN FRANCISCO — Two days had passed since Drew Storen blew the second save opportunity of his playoff career, turning a nine-inning victory into an 18-inning defeat.
But when the ninth inning rolled back around Monday afternoon in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, manager Matt Williams again turned to his closer. Storen again allowed two hits and one run. But this time, he walked off the field with a win.
Storen faced five batters in the ninth but sealed Washington’s 4-1 win, prolonging its season by at least one more day. He said he did not dwell on Saturday night’s miscues, nor his blown save in Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS.
“You’ve got to be in the moment, especially in the playoffs,” Storen said. “If you’re worried about the past, worried about what happened last game, that’s a lost cause.”
In a twist of fate, the first batter Storen faced was the last one he saw Saturday night: Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Again Sandoval collected a hit, this time a blooper to right field. Hunter Pence doubled in the following at-bat, and Storen was immediately in a deep hole.
Former closer Rafael Soriano and left-hander Matt Thornton jogged from the dugout to the bullpen along the right-field line, insurance should Storen falter. But the closer struck out Brandon Belt looking, then got Brandon Crawford to fly out to right field. A run scored on the sacrifice fly, but the next batter, Travis Ishikawa, grounded out to shortstop Ian Desmond to end the game.
“That was huge,” said Tyler Clippard, who pitched a spotless eighth. “Especially getting the first two runners on and then shutting the door after that. It’s good for us, it’s good for him. Get the nerves out of the way. He battled through and got the job done.”
For weeks, Williams refused to give Storen the title of closer. But in defending him following Game 3, he specifically referred to Storen as the team’s closer on several occasions. It was an indication of trust. And it made Williams all the happier to see Storen close out the game Monday.
“It’s important for him,” Williams said. “You know, made a good pitch on [Sandoval], and then the slider to Pence is probably a little bit up. But he did a nice job of staying on it and hitting it. And then [Storen] worked out of it.”
Monday’s ninth inning marked a small but important step for Williams, Storen and the Nationals overall. It was a matter of confidence and redemption, Storen proving to himself what he knows he can do.
Though in his eyes, it was just another day.
“You’ve got to just look at what’s in front of you,” Storen said. “You can’t change anything that just happened. You’ve got to make the most of this. I want to be out there finishing that out. I’ve just got to lock it down, make the quality pitches, and I knew it would take care of itself.”