Jonathan Newton / WP

The crazy twists of the Nationals’ 3-2 victory in Game 1 somehow reduced a 1-2-3, one-run save against the top of the Cardinals’ hellacious into an afterthought. Even Drew Storen suggested he had done the easy part.

“I tried to ride the coattails of what the guys in front of me did,” Storen said. “They did the dirty work for me. I get a little too much credit there in the ninth for what those guys did.”

Do not be fooled. Storen’s ninth inning may not have been as dramatic as the rest of the late-inning madness, but it meant just as much, not only to the game but for the Nationals moving forward in the playoffs. In getting two pop flies and striking out Matt Holliday, Storen threw 96-mph sinkers and mid-80s boomerang sliders. He pitched with the stuff nasty enough to effectively turn the rest of the Nationals’ playoff games into eight-inning affairs.

As fate would have it, Storen made his playoff debut in the same stadium he made his major league debut. That night, he admitted he felt nerves. Sunday, facing Jon Jay, Carlos Beltran and Holliday, he felt like it was still the regular season.

“It’s about the same,” Storen said. “Anytime you’re going in that ninth inning, you’re going to be fired up.”

Storen may be especially dangerous this October because of his freshness. He missed a little more than the first half of the season after he underwent elbow surgery in April. He eased his way back into the bullpen, and then into the ninth inning. And now, as the rest of the league winds down from a 162-game slog, Storen is only ratcheting up.

In his final 23 games of the regular season, Storen punched up an 0.86 ERA with 17 strikeouts and one walk in 21 innings. The scary part: He feels he has not hit a plateau, that he is only getting stronger.

“I feel better than I ever have before. It keeps getting better. Mentally and physically, I’m just thrown off as to where the season is. I haven’t even thought about an all-star break yet. That’s the funny thing about it. Hopefully we have, what, three or four more weeks? I feel like I just started hitting my stride.

“I still think it’s getting better. It’s feeling better every time I go out there. It’s kind of a good thing. You look at it last year, the time I was throwing the hardest didn’t come until, like, June or something like that. That’s pretty much where we’re at.”

Even as far back as spring training, when Storen first felt discomfort in his elbow, he emphasized the importance of being healthy in September and October. Storen believed the Nationals could and would reach the playoffs.

“That’s kind of what we hit on when I came back,” Storen said. “People said, ‘Oh, are you going to be anxious to get back?’ And I was. But at the same time, I knew I had to do it right, because I wanted to make sure I was fresh at this point. I knew where this was going. It was a blessing in disguise. Obviously not ideal, but it’s worked out really nicely.”