By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 20, 2010; 12:17 AM
PHILADELPHIA - As the Philadelphia Phillies hopped out of their dugout and the crowd erupted, Drew Storen lingered on the grass between the mound and home plate for a moment. He stared out to center field, glanced at Jayson Werth circling the bases and slowly ambled off the field.
Storen blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning of the Washington Nationals' 7-6 loss before 44,936 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Storen faced four batters. All of them scored. The final two runs crossed after Werth smashed a walk-off home run to center field.
There are surely better days ahead for Storen, who in the intensity of an opponent's pennant race and rabid stadium experienced the most crushing sensation a closer can feel: His team handed him the game. He lost it.
The Nationals had built their lead - and a chance to avoid a sweep and leave their imprint on the National League playoff picture - with three home runs and another sterling performance from their indefatigable bullpen. It unraveled in the end, with a ballpark exploding and Storen standing alone in the middle of the diamond before walking away, disappearing from view.
"You have those feelings that are so good you can't explain," Storen said. "This is one of those that's so bad you can't explain. That's a long walk to the dugout."
The nightmare inning may already have been replaying in Storen's head. Placido Polanco singled to center. Chase Utley doubled to left. Ryan Howard drove them both in with a single to center to bring Werth to the plate.
Werth and Storen battled until the count ran full. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, he fouled off a 3-2 slider, "a good pitch," Storen said. On the next pitch, Storen wanted to challenge Werth with his best pitch. He fired a fastball, 94 mph. Werth smoked it to center. He and Storen both knew.
"It just got a little too much of the plate and a little too much of his barrel," Storen said. "In that situation, you've got to make a better pitch. Obviously, I missed the pitch."
As awful as Storen felt about the outcome, he felt comfortable with his pitching. "I threw good pitches, and I got beat. . . . There's really not a lot I would change."
Said catcher Ivan Rodriguez: "Let's put it this way: He just had a rough ninth inning. He's been doing a great job for us. Today was a tough day for him."
The Nationals had taken control thanks to solo home runs by Willie Harris and Danny Espinosa and a pivotal three-run blast by Michael Morse that turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead in the sixth. Harris added an insurance run later with an RBI single, putting the Nationals up three.
Starter Yunesky Maya was serviceable and inefficient, avoiding any disastrous moments while throwing 90 pitches in 42/3 innings. He allowed three runs on six hits and two walks, using his looping, low-70s curveball with roughly the same frequency as his sinking fastball.
His early departure handed the game over to the Nationals bullpen, which has now thrown more innings than any in baseball and had the Phillies to two earned runs over 16 innings this series. It oppressed the Phillies until the ninth, an inning Storen will need to forget, no matter how difficult it may seem.
"After you pack your bag and get out of here, you've got to leave it at your locker," Storen said. "You try to take the emotion out of it and learn from it. I'm not going to walk in tomorrow with my head down. I'm going to walk out of here with my head up.
"I threw my best stuff out there. I just got beat. The important thing for me is to want to come back tomorrow and wanting the ball in the ninth tomorrow. And that's what I want."