For closers, it’s great to be able to throw 98-mph fastballs and knee-buckling off-speed stuff. But the ability to move on quickly from your previous outing is a closer’s most essential trait. Unfortunately for Storen and the Nationals, Storen is stuck in the past.
Fact is, Storen hasn’t rebounded from his ninth-inning meltdown in Game 5 of last season’s National League Division Series. Storen entered with the Nationals leading the St. Louis Cardinals, 7-5, at Nationals Park. Two walks, three hits and four earned runs later, Storen and his teammates walked off the field trailing by two runs. Washington wound up losing, 9-7, after twice being within a strike of clinching.
That’s about as bad as it gets for a closer. Storen was entitled to some time to recover. The mourning period, however, should have ended the moment Storen walked out of the clubhouse that night in October.
Consistent closers are able to flip a switch after blown saves and record 1-2-3 innings their next time on the mound. It’s a lot like playing cornerback in football. Even if the good ones get burned for a touchdown, they believe they’ll intercept a pass on the next series.
In becoming the game’s career saves leader, New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has benefitted as much from having a short memory as he has from his overpowering cut-fastball. Like all closers, the future Hall of Famer has failed on the job — including on baseball’s biggest stage — but Rivera always comes back strong. In 2001, the Arizona Diamondbacks rallied against Rivera in Game 7 to win the World Series. Since then, Rivera has recorded 426 saves in the regular season entering Wednesday’s play.
Some critics contend Storen still would have been fine in the closer’s role — but management unfairly stripped him of it. Reliever Tyler Clippard has been the loudest on the subject.
After his friend was sent down to Class AAA Syracuse, Clippard blasted management for its handling of Storen, who was bumped to a setup job after the Nationals signed Rafael Soriano. “You basically send a guy a message this offseason for having one bad game — that he’s not the guy for the job,” Clippard said.
Clippard is the anchor of the Nationals’ bullpen and a clubhouse leader. He’s entitled to his opinion, which carries weight in the organization. Storen, though, didn’t merely have one bad game. He failed with the Nationals needing three outs to advance to the National League Championship Series.