NEW YORK - One-run game, bottom of the seventh inning.
Two Nationals errors have already been committed, allowing the Mets to load the bases with just one out.
Game on the line. Momentum possibly starting to shift.
Matt Williams comes out to get Jordan Zimmermann, who hadn’t allowed an earned run through his 6 1/3 innings to that point. Drew Storen trots out of the Nats bullpen, handed a jam that couldn’t be much tougher.
Not that Storen seems to mind.
“Those are the fun spots,” Storen said. “In the seventh inning, you’re going to have those situations. Honestly, I haven’t done a great job of it this year. That’s something that I really try to take pride in because those aren’t my runs. Especially when you’ve got Jordan having the start that he did, you want to preserve that. In a tight ballgame, you don’t want to be the guy to go in there and let them even it up.”
Storen faced Wilmer Flores with one out, and got a tapper to third on the first pitch he threw. Anthony Rendon came home for the force out. Two down, and Storen turned his attention to pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
A seven-pitch battle ensued. Storen got behind in the count 2-1, and at that point turned heavily to his changeup, a pitch that he started throwing just a couple of years ago strictly to put something else on the scouting report, make opposing hitters have just a twinge of a thought that he might throw something other than his fastball or his slider.
The changeup has become a major weapon for Storen this season, and he threw three of them in a four-pitch span after getting behind in the count. On the first one, Nieuwenhuis swung through for strike two, clearly looking for a fastball in a fastball count. Nieuwenhuis then fouled off two straight pitches (changeup and slider) before Storen went back to the changeup yet again.
Nieuwenhuis swung through it. Strike three, crisis in the seventh inning averted. And yet another example of how confident Storen has become in his changeup.
“Yeah, that’s a big pitch for me with lefties,” Storen said. “Lefties can kind of see the slider better in the zone and in a big spot like that, luckily I’ve been using it all year. I’ve been excited to use my changeup in a spot like that, and it worked out all right.”
Prior to last night, Storen had allowed 50 percent of the runners he inherited this season to score, which he admits are not ideal numbers. When he was a closer, Storen rarely came in with runners on base. That’s something he’s had to adapt to in recent years, and he’s learned how best to approach those situations.
“You just learn to attack guys,” he says. “You don’t want to fall behind. You fall behind, you let them get in the driver’s seat, and with those kind of hitters, you can’t really do that. You’ve got to work ahead and attack and work down in the zone.”
The Nats made three errors last night. They missed out on chances to get to Bartolo Colon early. They gave the Mets big-time scoring opportunities late. Yet they still came away with a 3-2 win, their 24th win in their last 28 games at Citi Field.
What did last night’s victory say about this Nats as a whole?
“It doesn’t have to be pretty, but if you want to win a pennant, you have to win some of these ugly games, too,” Storen said. “That’s a big win for us to get. Because we didn’t have things go our way the entire night, but we got it done, and that’s what it’s all about.”