Oh, and it’s not his psychological inability to get over from being one strike away, in 13 excruciating pitches, from putting Washington in the National League Championship Series.
No, it’s the Nationals’. From Mike Rizzo to Davey Johnson to pitching coach Steve McCatty, they kept saying the right things to their 25-year-old closer that night he couldn’t finish off the Cardinals — that it wasn’t his fault, that he’d be back just like they’d be back to set things right.
Then they made it Drew Storen’s fault. They took his job away.
I know. It’s an old story.
Really, what does a rattled October closer being demoted to setup guy have to do with their inability now to make up real ground on the Braves and start acting like division champions and genuine pennant contenders?
Nothing – and everything.
The Nationals can intellectualize all they want about going out and getting the best-available closer needed to put them over the top in Rafael Soriano and how that investment has appeared to pay off. But they can’t dismiss the notion that the most soul-crushing moment of a guy’s career never was allowed to become the fuel for Storen to develop into one of the league’s great closers — because he never got that chance.
Based solely on the acquisition of Soriano, he had every right to feel he lost his job because of blowing that save against the Cardinals. If you don’t think at least some of the team’s other relievers didn’t initially bristle at the acquisition of Soriano, you’re wrong; they knew that could easily have been them.
Storen and the others are over it. They know it’s Mike Rizzo’s job to make the team better – damn anyone’s feelings. But people very high in the organization wonder privately how much effect not only that collapse had on Storen psychologically, but also how the pitcher would take management essentially saying, “Uh, Drew, you know how we said it wasn’t your fault that night. Well, it was. And that’s why Rafael is here now.”
I don’t know if Storen would have become a lights-out closer this year. I don’t know if he would have the season Soriano is having, which has fluctuated between reliable and spectacular. I do know he never got that chance.
And while everyone in the dugout from Jayson Werth to Davey gets an opportunity at a do-over if they can get to October, Storen won’t get the chance to fix what he broke in Game 5. And I also know decisions made to severely alter what was already a more-than-respectable bullpen before Soriano came aboard can have chemistry consequences that linger.
Dennis Eckersley gave up the most famous walk-off homer in baseball history to Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series. It ruined him so bad psychologically that he saved more than 300 games the rest of his career.
Brad Lidge gave up a ninth-inning, game-winning homer to Albert Pujols in the 2005 NLCS and a walk-off homer to Scott Podsednik in the 2005 World Series. He was on the mound for the Phillies when they won it all in 2008.
Is Storen, still just 25, going to have the career of Lidge or Eckersley? Who knows? It’s too early to say. And who knows when Soriano is done here whether Storen gains the complete trust of the next manager. Heck, if he began flourishing again in the setup role, Storen could re-emerge as the team’s closer at, say, 27 – still a young age for that job, especially by Mariano Rivera standards. (Well, if his former roommate, Tyler Clippard, doesn’t beat him to the job.)
But when Davey calls Storen a “smart kid” that he thinks “would figure out” his problems on the mound last week — he ended up costing the Nats’ seven hits and seven runs in two innings of work — it implies Storen has to get his head in the game.
When in reality a young right-hander with all the potential in the world, just a year and change removed from putting up a 43-save season, was toyed with mentally by his own club more than anything Storen did to cripple his confidence.
Even though some have blamed Davey for using Storen three consecutive days last October, including the night he came in with the Nationals down eight runs in Game 3 to make sure he got some work in, I think that’s useless. The manager had his best reliever on the mound with the season on the line. He believed in Storen enough to hand him the ball in that spot and it didn’t happen. Life goes on.
But I do blame everyone in the organization if they decided to use the worst night of a kid’s career as a referendum on his future as the team’s closer. Whether Soriano shuts the door in the ninth inning of a deciding playoff game or not, Drew Storen deserved better than that.
For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.