The secret's out now: Nats' Storen was in terrible pain for Game 5
Nationals reliever Drew Storen still won't say much about it, but teammates claim he having unbearable back pain in the playoffs last year, including during the fateful Game 5.
VIERA, Fla. -- The ever-affable Nats reliever Drew Storen has done interview after interview about the bitter Game 5 defeat that sent Washington home from the postseason, and of course his role in it. But in each retelling, he has always left out one important detail. Exactly how important that detail is, well, that's still up for debate.
Some folks around the Nats think it's the crux of the story, the untold reason Storen followed two hitless outings in two straight days with the bullpen blowup on the third straight day he pitched, the day that ended their season. As for Storen, well, he would rather not even have the debate.
The stoic Storen said not a word to a soul who might repeat it, but some people around the team claim he was in excruciating pain the last three days of that playoff series with St. Louis, including that final, fateful day. Given a two-run lead, Storen pitched the Nationals to within one strike of the NLCS twice, but couldn't quite close the door in the 9-7 Game 5 defeat folks won't soon forget in the nation's capital. Eventually, he allowed three hits, two walks and four runs, and left as the loser in the most important baseball game in Washington in decades.
It might have been easy at some point during interview after interview he has done this winter and spring to let slip that he was having terrible back pain in Game 5, that he'd spend much of the final three days in the trainers room receiving treatment for back spasms others described as unbearable. Not him, though. Storen wouldn't say a thing about it. Still won't. Not really.
Only after being confronted with the information did he offer even a reluctant acknowledgement that maybe he wasn't quite 100 percent, and that maybe he did receive a little treatment. But it clearly was a topic he wasn't interested in talking about. And his message was exactly that: To him it wasn't a worthy subject because aches and pains are felt throughout a 162-game schedule by everyone who wears a uniform.
To him, that's the end of the story. More interesting to him was how word got out. It seems, he would have been happy to take this one with him.
Storen was content to conduct dozens of interviews without saying a thing. He watched the tape of it, then moved on. It was a lesson learned, he kept telling folks. Except that it is only half the story, if that.
The closer's job requires a macho mentality, and despite his smallish stature, golden locks and amiable demeanor, Stanford man Storen clearly is fit for that role, teammates say. He wants the ball, and he wants it when it counts.
Rafael Soriano wasn't imported because of any lack of faith in Storen on the part of the front office or the owner. They understand the score, even if Nationals bosses also don't wish to discuss Storen's untimely ailment any more than Storen does.
Nats general manager Mike Rizzo said he "didn't want to talk about"’ Storen's condition in Game 5 but did assert that his blowup vs. the Cardinals isn't what caused him to sign Soriano to a $28-million, two-year contract, not even close.
"I told him the acquisition of Soriano had nothing to do with one inning in Game 5," Rizzo said. "It was done to shorten the game and give us more depth. I feel he's an impact closer."
Storen, heading into his fourth season after being drafted 12th overall out of Stanford and making the quick ascension to the big leagues, has no issue with the decision, or the new job as set-up man. He's nothing if not a team man. He mentioned how Tyler Clippard and others who did the set-up job often had to face the heart of a team's order in much tougher spots while he got some easy outs, and some gimme saves. He seems to enter the job with gusto.
"In the bullpen you're always going to pitch in big spots,"’ Storen said. "I still have the mentality of a closer. A lot of times the big outs come in the eighth inning, or the seventh or sixth inning. There's nothing wrong with setting up for a quality team."
Rizzo and Co. had a plan to emphasize pitching and defense, and the GM enhanced the pen to make it elite, as well as the outfield defense. Rizzo's trade for excellent center fielder Denard Span enables now 20-year-old phenom Bryce Harper to move to left field, giving them one of the best defensive outfields in the league.
It's a quality team, full of quality guys, ready to support Storen. No one was ever going to count one inning against Storen, anyway. But in the eyes of many, that inning comes with a major asterisk now.
"He was having real bad back spasms. That was the third day (pitching) in a row," teammate Jayson Werth said. "He was banged up, man. No one knew. For him to just have the balls to go out there, that says a lot about him."
Werth and others didn’t talk about it because they seek an excuse for Storen. They just want to set the record straight, and the true record should reflect that Storen was valiant just to pitch three straight games in pain. If anything, his teammates' admiration for him grew.
"I'm not blaming his injury," Werth said. "He just wasn't healthy."
Storen, Rizzo and some other Nats may not want to think anyone around here is making any alibis for their defeat, and they don’t want to take anything away form the great Cardinals team, the defending World Champions at the time.
But facts are facts. And Storen wasn't right.
Though, you wouldn’t know it from the two days before. In Game 3, on Oct 10, he threw one hitless inning in an 8-0 blowout defeat. Then in Game 4, Storen threw another hitless inning, getting the win in a 2-1 game that took them to Game 5.
Then came the blowup, and the Cardinals had their surprise return to the NLCS. The Nationals had blown a 6-0 lead, little by little. But all anyone remembered was that Stephen Strasburg didn't pitch in the series (the Nats did the right thing by protecting their prodigy’s arm, but that's a story for another day) and Storen had a bad day.
Through it all, he stayed silent. Now finally, a few folks are willing to mention it (though Storen not so much). Storen sought to downplay the pain. He provided no details. He clearly either doesn't want to use the ailment as an excuse or perhaps doesn't believe it is.
"I was all right. I was good. I was out there," the normally expansive Storen responded when asked about his ailment.
Following up with comments from others triggered only a last sentence or two, and that was it.
"It's all right, I grinded," Storen said. "I wanted to be out there. I was going to do it no matter what."
Characteristic of a closer, he may prefer to avoid dwelling on a defeat.
"I dealt with it like any other outing. You learn from it and move on," Storen said. "You can't dodge it. But it doesn't do any good to dwell on it."
Especially if only part of the story is told.