Drew Storen stood in front of his locker wearing his grey undershirt with red sleeves.
He looked at the floor, paced around the Nationals clubhouse a bit, then came back to his locker. Veteran infielder Mark DeRosa walked over and gave Storen a hug and a few words of encouragement. Starter Gio Gonzalez followed, as did general manager Mike Rizzo.
Storen stared at the ground a bit more, playing at the carpet with his toes. Plastic sheets were pulled up above the lockers towards the ceiling. A postgame celebration had been planned, but never came to be.
The 25-year-old closer walked toward a group of reporters, navigated through the cameras and microphones and talked about a dream save which turned into a nightmare.
“We had it right there and the most disappointing thing, obviously, is I just let these guys down,” Storen said. “I know there was an unbelievable crowd and unbelievable support. The amount of adversity we dealt with this year, (for it to) kind of come down to that, it’s pretty tough.”
Storen entered the game with the Nationals leading the Cardinals 7-5 in the top of the ninth inning. He needed three outs to send the Nats to the National League Championship Series, to provide another first in a season full of them.
Instead, it all went wrong. Storen got two outs within the first three batters he faced, then walked two in a row to load the bases. Both of those walks came after the Nats were a single strike away from victory. Daniel Descalso, a career .245 hitter at the major league level, ripped a single off the glove of shortstop Ian Desmond, bringing in two runs to tie the game. Pete Kozma, who batted .232 at Triple-A this season before his call-up, followed by dropping a single down the line in right, plating two more.
Just like that, in the blink of an eye, the Nats trailed 9-7. That was the final score of the most crushing loss in the Nationals’ brief history.
“That’s part of the job,” Storen said. “It’s the best job when you’re good at it, and it’s the worst job when you fail. So it’s part of it. You’ve just got to learn from it.”
Storen said he made good pitches. He said he wouldn’t change a thing about how he handled the batters he faced. “I have no regrets,” he said.
The Cardinals’ hitters, Yadier Molina and David Freese, specifically, took tough pitches just out of the zone. Storen didn’t blame the umpires for the close calls that didn’t go his way. He complimented the veteran hitters who capitalized on his mistakes.
“They’re good hitters,” he said. “That’s what makes them good is they have quality takes. That’s what makes them successful.”
Storen had trouble with Descalso and Kozma, but he was far from the only one. For the series, the Cardinals’ light-hitting No. 7 and No. 8 hitters went a combined 10-for-35 with three homers and 11 RBIs.
“I don’t care what kind of success anybody has (had). It’s a whole different ballgame in the postseason,” Storen said. “They’re good hitters. They take what you give them and make the most of it, and that’s what they did.”
Storen said he’ll eventually be able to look back on this season in a positive light, a season in which the Nationals won 98 regular season games, earned the NL East title and posted the best record in the major leagues. But there was no chance Storen could do that tonight.
“Bad taste in my mouth, but that’s going to stay there for a couple months,” he said. “It’s probably never going to leave, and going to be motivating and be a little fire every time I go out there.
“I’m sure it’ll be a learning process, but got to let that wound heal, I guess, first.”
With that, Storen’s session with the media ended. He went back to his locker, took a seat in front of it facing the open room, and stared at the floor. He turned around eventually, gazing into his locker at nothing in particular.
Eventually, Tyler Clippard, his close friend, roommate and set-up man, came over and put his hand on Storen’s shoulder. He pulled his chair close to Storen’s and quietly spoke to his teammate. Storen got up, dressed, put on his backpack and a black hat, turned backwards. It was 1:30 a.m. and he finally was all ready to go home.
Then he plopped down in his chair and stared back into his locker. He wasn’t ready to move on yet.