"It's tough," Davey Johnson told reporters after the Washington Nationals' Game 5 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in last October's NLDS. "We've had a great year overcoming a lot of hardship," Johnson continued, "and to not go after them at the end was not fun to watch." The Nats' then-69-year-old skipper was not just referring to closer Drew Storen and his struggles in a ninth inning which saw Storen blow a two-run lead by giving up three hits, two walks and four runs in a 33-pitch, 18-strike frame, but also to that night's starter, Gio Gonzalez, who gave up five hits, four walks and three runs in five innings that night in which he threw 99 pitches, 56 of them strikes. Asked what the problem had been with Storen, in particular, Johnson said he thought his closer was just trying to be too fine.
"I think he felt like he was making good pitches," Johnson said, "but they were missing. I think he just tried to be too fine. He's got a great-moving, live fastball. Just need to throw it over. I mean, he wasn't alone. It seemed like Gio had the same problem. You can't win big ballgames by giving free passes. You've got to trust your defense behind you, go after them. We've been really good all year. Just having a little hiccup here at the end."
Storen, for his part, told reporters afterwards that nights like that night come with the job. "It's the best job when you're good at it and it's the worst job when you fail," the 25-year-old '09 1st Round pick said, surrounded by reporters at his locker not long after the dramatic end of the Nationals' season.
"I made good pitches," Storen said, "Can't really... wouldn't change a thing. I have no regrets." The Nationals and their closer had come within one strike of an NLCS matchup with the San Francisco Giants and they had fallen short. The last thing fans in the nation's capital wanted to do with the 2013 campaign about to kick off in Saturday's Grapefruit League opener was relive the end of the 2012 campaign, but a narrative-altering article published Friday night by CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman shed light on a previously unreported aspect of the Nats' closer's ninth-inning meltdown in the NLDS.
Storen has retold the story in interview after interview since that night, Mr. Heyman writes, "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." Storen was throwing on a third straight night after scoreless innings in Games 3 and 4 against the Cards in which he'd walked one and K'd three while throwing 37 pitches, all the while dealing with what Mr. Heyman says was "excruciating pain" in his back. Storen never said anything publicly and seemed unhappy to have to talk about it when asked for the purposes of the article, but sources said, "... that he'd spen[t] much of the final three days in the trainers room receiving treatment for back spasms others described as unbearable."
Storen, the CBSSports.com reporter notes, gave, "... a reluctant acknowledgement that maybe he wasn't quite 100 percent," when asked about the issue, but, Mr. Heyman writes, "... it clearly was a topic he wasn't interested in talking about."
Nats' GM Mike Rizzo "didn't want to talk about" Storen's condition in the NLDS according to Mr. Heyman. Jayson Werth is the only National quoted directly in the article talking about the back issues Storen struggled with during the series:
"'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," Mr. Heyman notes, "They just want to set the record straight." Storen says in the article he was fine. "'I was all right. I was good. I was out there,'" he's quoted explaining.
Nats' skipper Davey Johnson was asked on Saturday morning before Washington's 2013 Grapefruit League opener against New York, what he recalled from that night and if he had any reaction to the CBSSports.com report.
"The only thing I recall is he didn’t throw many strikes and I attribute it to trying to be too fine," the Nationals' now-70-year-old manager said, "And Gio had the same problem, trying to a little be too fine, wasn’t very pitch efficient. And that’s just lack of experience. I’m sure it [wasn’t] the first time he's pitched with back spasms. But, I'm not worried about [Storen]. He's a great young pitcher."
A lot of players are dealing with nagging injuries that late in the season, Johnson said, "But I don't think anybody was overly tired. Again, I just attribute it more just to a little inexperience situation, trying to do too much. And that comes with lack of experience. But I thought by and large the guys handled it really well in the pennant race and that's a great experience. Just had a few little glitches in the postseason. And you're going to be better for it."