With team ef­fort, Nats’ Storen adds to his saves ac­count

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY JAMESWAGNER james.wag­ner@wash­post.com

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.”

STOREN FAM­ILY PHOTO

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.

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