The last time Drew Storen jogged in from the bullpen to face the Phillies in a save situation, he endured the most implosive inning of his career. It was last September in Philadelphia. The Nationals led by three when Storen came in to pitch the ninth. Placido Polanco singled. Chase Utley doubled. Ryan Howard single. And Jayson Werth hit a walk-off home run.
Storen disallowed himself from thinking about that, or anything else. He didn’t think about preserving John Lannan’s first win. He didn’t think about the series victory against the Phillies. The thought in his head was, “fastball, down.”
“That’s the whole distraction thing,” Storen said. “If I start thinking, ‘The wheels could fall again,’ I’m in trouble. I’m beat already.”
Storen’s focus helped him secure the save, his first since May 16. In the interim, Storen had blown one save chance and lost another game when he entered with the score tied in the ninth. Storen got back on track by sealing the game against Polanco, one of the toughest outs and one of the four batters who created his disaster in Philadelphia last September.
With two outs, Polanco came to the plate with Jimmy Rollins having reached on a one-out bunt single. This season, Polanco had struck out once every 14.75 at-bats, the fourth-least prolific whiffer in the majors.
“I’m not even thinking of a strikeout,” Storen said. “The guy is such a good hitter, I’m just trying to miss the barrel. I’m just thinking make a quality and let him hit it to our defense.”
Storen started Polanco with a 95-mph fastball and a slider, two called strikes. Polanco dug in and took a slider for a ball, then fouled off two more sliders. On 1-2, Storen decided he would try another fastball.
“Just go outside with it,” Storen said. “If he hits it, he hits it. I was just trying to make my pitch there.”
Storen ripped a 96-mph heater. Polanco watched, and home plate umpire Jerry Layne slowly pumped his fists – strike three. Polanco turned around and protested. It may have been a smidge outside, but it was close enough to strike out Polanco for only the 17th time this season and end the game.
“Looked good to me,” Storen said.