At 4:17 Sunday afternoon, 17 minutes after the trade deadline, Drew Storen slapped a ball into his glove and emerged from the bullpen gates at Nationals Park, right where he wanted to be. Storen hoped to remain with the Washington Nationals despite swirling trade rumors, and now here he was, the only pressure on him, at last, derived from closing a one-run baseball game.
“Once they called and told me to warm up,” Storen said afterward, “that’s when I knew.”
After several stressful days, Storen felt relief when the deadline passed. Then he experienced sudden, momentary pain as the home run he allowed tied the score in the top of the ninth and flew into the visitor’s bullpen. In the bottom half, Rick Ankiel bailed him out and delivered a 3-2, walk-off victory over the New York Mets by dashing home from third on Ian Desmond’s chopper over the pitcher’s mound.
Storen did not get the save. He settled for a win snatched from Jordan Zimmermann, who bounced back from two subpar starts with six scoreless innings. The Nationals scored their first two runs in the sixth inning on consecutive doubles by Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse.
The trade deadline provided the day’s backdrop for players and fans. Many of the 25,307 in attendance kept one eye fixed in the bullpen, on Storen’s whereabouts. When Storen entered, they gave him a standing ovation.
“That was unbelievable,” Storen said. “It’s been an interesting week. To have them standing behind me was really special. I just want to thank them for that.
“Probably the weirdest day of my career. As much as you have to shut that stuff out, it’s still on your mind. Once I saw the clock hit 4 and nobody had called me, I was really excited, really happy.”
Before the game, Storen looked at a clubhouse clock and said, “It’s over in six hours, right?” He had wondered about his future for days, as rumors swirled that the Nationals and Twins were in talks for a deal that would send Storen to Minnesota and center fielder Denard Span to Washington.
Once he arrived at the park, Storen tried to concentrate only on the game. But nerves still surfaced, for him and his teammates.
“I was kind of looking at the clock there a little bit before 4,” right fielder Jayson Werth said. “I looked back and saw he was still in the bullpen. I figured that was a good thing.”
As Tyler Clippard entered to pitch the eighth inning a few minutes before 4, the bullpen phone rang, pitching coach Steve McCatty telling Storen to warm up. While Clippard pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning and the clock struck 4, Storen felt free to dismiss a week’s worth of rumor.
Once Storen entered the game, Angel Pagan grounded to second base and Jason Bay chopped to third, a start to a nice, tidy narrative. Up came Scott Hairston, who had driven in the Mets only run to that point with a leadoff homer against Sean Burnett in the seventh. With the count 1-0, Storen threw a sinker that didn’t sink, and Hairston blasted it over the left field fence.
Suddenly, Zimmermann’s masterpiece was in danger of being ruined.
After allowing 12 earned runs in 11 2 / 3 innings over his last two starts, he shut out the Mets over six innings, allowing seven hits and one walk. Zimmermann’s most impressive sequence came in his toughest situation. After Daniel Murphy hit a one-out single, David Wright ripped a line drive to right field. Werth chased it and slid to make a catch, but the ball popped out of his glove, putting runners on first and second.
After Zimmermann peered in for a sign while facing Angel Pagan, he flinched with a slight turn of his shoulders, a movement deemed a balk by home plate umpire CB Bucknor, moving runners to second and third. With one out and a tie game, the Mets had a chance to take control.
But Zimmermann knew, with his pitch count reaching 100, he had reached his last moments. Zimmermann worked the count to 1-2 against Pagan and fired an 85-mph backdoor slider that caught the outside edge of the plate, framed expertly by catcher Jesus Flores. Zimmermann then struck out Bay with a chin-high, 95-mph fastball, his sixth strikeout in an 11-batter span. Walking off the mound, Zimmermann pumped his fist.
“I was a little fired up,” Zimmermann said. “I just had to buckle in.”
Those tense outs allowed the Nationals to take the lead in the bottom half of the inning, but Hairston’s second home run tied the score. Flores led off the ninth against Mets reliever Bobby Parnell with a single through the right side. Ankiel reached when Parnell hit him with a pitch. Brian Bixler could not execute a sac bunt, but the runners moved up when Parnell threw Desmond a wild pitch.
With one out, Manager Davey Johnson called for the “contact” play — any way Desmond put the ball in play, Ankiel would sprint home. Desmond worked a 3-2 count and chopped a 91-mph slider up the middle.
Ankiel bolted, and he peeked at Parnell as the pitcher leaped, trying to snag the ball. “But it didn’t matter,” he said. “Ball on the ground, I’m going. He’s going to have to make the play and throw me out. If he does, he does.”
The ball inched over Parnell’s glove. Second baseman Willie Harris streaked across the middle, grabbed the ball and fired home. Ankiel slid in headfirst, safe without question.
The Nationals mobbed Desmond at first, Storen among them. They were still his teammates, an iffy prospect hours before. At the end of a satisfyingly strange day, Storen finally had certainty.
“That’s a big win for us today,” Storen said. “I’ll be really happy to come to the ballpark tomorrow.”