With team effort, Nats’ Storen adds to his saves account
The easiest way to track Drew Storen’s unique career arc as Washington Nationals closer isn’t by watching video or sifting through box scores. Reminders of Storen’s life in the most volatile position in baseball are displayed in his parents’ South Carolina home or stuffed in white sanitary socks in his Nationals Park locker.
With the help of longtime clubhouse manager Mike Wallace, Storen has kept the final out from every save of his career, all 94 of them. Each marks a different part of Storen’s journey from hardthrowing rookie to savvy veteran.
The Aug. 6, 2010, ball marks Storen’s first save. Sept. 28, 2011? The last of Storen’s 43 saves that season and the final game of catcher Pudge Rodriguez’s career. The Sept. 20, 2012, ball brings back memories of the save that clinched the Nationals’ first playoff berth. April 8, 2015, is the first save of his second full season as Nationals closer.
“I always cared aboutmy equipment,” Storen said. “I always try to hold on to it because you might take it for granted now. But years from now, looking back, it’s kind of cool. There are even things now where I’ll go through boxes of old stuff and be like, ‘Hey, this is neat.’ I hold on to as much as I can. You never know how long you’re going to play this game, so anything you can hold on to, it’s worth it.”
The Nationals’ tradition of keeping the ball from the final out for closers began under Wallace. Even after Storen’s first career save, Wallace kept taking the final out ball, marking it up and leaving it in the reliever’s locker. “They’re all really cool,” Storen said.
Wallace did the same for Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard, whois continuing the tradition this season in Oakland.
After games, pitchers hand the ball to Wallace, who takes it to the Major League Baseball memorabilia authenticator at Nationals Park. A silver sticker verifies the ball was used in that game. Wallace, using a black permanent marker, then writes the winning and losing pitchers, the save number, the final score and the closer’s stat line on the ball.
Wallace then gives the ball to Storen, whose puts it in a sanitary sock. This season’s 28 saves are in his locker; the rest are with his parents. Storen’s father, Mark, designed a unique display for Drew’s most memorable season — 43 balls nestled in felt inside a wooden “2011.”
Storen considers all of his saves memorable but a few stand out. The final save of 2011, the last ball Rodriguez caught before he retired, means a lot to Storen. So does the 2012 playoff-clinching final out ball, when he struck out Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez to send a Washington baseball team to the postseason for the first time since 1933. Each save ball marks a different time in Storen’s career.
“Coming up, I was just grip and rip,” he said. “I’ve got a change-up now. I’m able to locate better. I feel like I have a better idea of what to do in certain situations. I’ve been fortunate to pitch in every type of situation, and now I have a game plan. And no matter what, when I’m in trouble, I know what I need to do. I think it’s just the experience factor that has helped me evolve.”
Storen isn’t sure how he will display this season’s saves, but he hopes to come up with a unique idea later. For now, he wants to save the balls but keep them out of sight.
“It’s neat to see it, but I’m so concerned with right now that I don’t really worry about it too much,” he said. “That’s part of the reason I keep them out ofmy face so when I am done I can sit there and soak it in and have some fun and look at the artifacts.”
Only one of Storen’s saves was lost, at least temporarily. On Sept. 12, 2012, as Storen worked his way back into the closer’s role after missing the first half of the season with elbow surgery, he notched his 50th career save. Setup man Sean Burnett got two outs in the ninth against the New York Mets at Citi Field but gave up two singles. Then-manager Davey Johnson called for Storen, who got pinch hitter Daniel Murphy to fly out to Bryc eHarper in center field.
But as Harper ran in to the Nationals’ dugout, he flipped the ball into the stands.
“Drew goes, ‘Where’s the ball?’ ” Harper recalled recently. “I was like, ‘ The guy in the front row has it. My bad.’ I think he’s doing okay now.”
Somehow, Wallace tracked downthe ball, although it couldn’t be authenticated. Now, position players know what to do with the final out ball.
“I know now,” Harper said, smiling. “If I get the last out, I give it to him.”
A family photo of the wooden display made byMark Storen of the 43 balls from his son Drew Storen's saves in 2011. The Nationals closer hangs on to the ball from every one of the games he has saved.