The Nationals made two quick outs in the 10th, which continued their baffling failings against relievers – it made them 0 for 13 with seven strikeouts against the Padres bullpen Friday night. Up came Tracy. Last September, the Nationals valued him so much they signed him to a one-year, $1 million extension. So far, he had gone 6 for 37. As a discipline, pinch-hitting is diabolical. Once you go cold, you have few chances to get unstuck.
“You go sit in your hotel room, sit in your bed at night, and think about it until you get your next at-bat,” Tracy said. “When you don’t get a hit that at-bat, you think about it even longer. It just builds and builds and builds. Finally, you just let it go, and whatever happens, happens. I think we’re kind of at that point now.”
Tracy walked to the plate, telling himself not to think too much. Street started with a change-up for a ball, then painted the outside corner to even the count. Street tried one more change-up, only he left it up just enough, inside. Tracy got out in front of the pitch, and even though the ball caromed off the end of his bat he knew he had gotten enough of it.
As he rounded first, Tracy pumped his fist. In the dugout, his teammates pounded his head and smacked his back.
“You’ve got somebody that’s a leader like Trace, doesn’t play a whole lot, yet he continues to stand there and support the team all game long,” LaRoche said. “To see him come up and get his first home run in a huge way for us, it was awesome.”
Having removed Soriano, Johnson turned to Storen for the save. The past two seasons, when healthy, Storen had received all of the save chances. This year, with Soriano signed to a two-year contract, he had been setting up.
“He’s been one of the best guys for us in the back end of the bullpen for two, three years now,” Zimmerman said. “I don’t think anyone in here doubts the kind of stuff that he has.”
With one out, John Baker drilled a chopper up the middle. Storen stuck out his right handed and deflected the ball. Nationals coaches came to check on him, but he remained in the game. The ball, luckily, had hit the fat part of his palm.
“I’m not going to try to be a hero if it’s going to cost us the game,” Storen said. “I felt fine with it.”
But Alexi Amerista followed with a sharp single to right, putting runners on the corners with one out. Up came Denorfia, fast enough that even a typical double-play ball could result in the game-tying run. Storen knew he needed a strikeout.
“You’re pretty much trying to miss the bat or get something really soft or just change speeds on him. He’s a good hitter, obviously. I was trying to change-up as much as I can on him. I was happy with the pitches I threw him.”
He fell behind when he bounced a slider, which Suzuki blocked. (“Huge,” Storen said.) Storen threw a fastball that Denorfia fouled off to even the count. Denorfia would not see another fastball. Storen rarely throws change-ups to right-handed batters. With the count 2-2, he fired one that started at Denorfia’s thighs and veered away from him to ankle-height. Denorfia swung through it.
“That was a nasty pitch,” Tracy said. “Hats go off that he stayed in the moment and beared down.”
Storen then induced a spinning grounder from Everth Cabrera, right to Zimmerman. Zimmerman bobbled the ball, and the sleepless hearts back in Washington rose to their throats. He scooped the ball and, under scrutiny, fired a strike across the diamond to end the game.
“I just caught a little in-between hop, and it scooped out of my glove,” Zimmerman said. “You just have to not panic. Panic will make it worse. You just kind of grab it and make a strong throw.”
The Nationals lined up in the middle of the dugout, exchanging high fives and hugs, all because of one swing.