On the day after baseball's premier closer, Mariano Rivera, reached 600 career saves, the Nationals' ninth-inning man, Drew Storen, drew a deep breath.
09/19/2011 10:27 AM ET
Storen shuts the door for Nats
Closer has 43 saves in his second season in the Majors
"Six hundred saves," Storen said with a touch of wonder in his voice. "If I get half that many, I'll be happy."
He is well underway. After posting five saves last season, Storen has pushed past 40 career saves in his second season with the Nationals. He has embraced the role that some consider the toughest job in baseball -- nailing down those often elusive final three outs to preserve a victory.
"There are a lot tougher jobs," he said. "It's the most fun. It's a high-risk, high-reward job."
It's a job Storen has done ever since playing college ball at Stanford. He remembers how it started.
"I was a freshman," he said. "We had a lot of older pitchers, so I guess I was low man on the totem pole. They thought I had the right mental makeup. I was thrown into a tough spot the first time."
In a game against the Cal State Fullerton, Storen found himself in the bullpen late with Stanford ahead by a run and Cal State Fullerton threatening with the tying run on second. Stanford called for Storen.
"I was pretty nervous," he said. But he had a solution. "You minimize the game. One batter at a time. One pitch at a time. The hardest part is to not get caught up in the moment."
He escaped the jam and worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings. After that, he was a closer.
He had a 12-4 record with 15 saves and a 3.64 ERA with 116 strikeouts and only 23 walks in two seasons at Stanford.
"I've learned a few things about the job," Storen said, "You have to have short-term memory. Good or bad, I shouldn't be able to tell you how I did last night. Every day is different. You have to show up, go through the same routine every day and then wait for the bullpen phone to ring. I want to hear that phone, especially if I got lit up the night before.
"Oh, and one other thing. It's good not to be interviewed. When you're being interviewed, it usually means you failed."
Like most closers, Storen occasionally hits some bumps in the road.
"He's been known for the dramatic," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
But Storen, who is only 23, is matter of fact about that situation. "Just hang with me," he said. "You've got to trust me a little bit."
Johnson has learned to do that, and Storen usually delivers. With two weeks left in the season, he was approaching 40 saves for a team that had won just 70 games. Only three other closers, Chad Cordero, Neftali Feliz and Craig Kimbel, have saved 40 games at age 23.
Storen caught the eyes of scouts when he was in high school at Brownsburg, Ind., where he won 30 games with 319 strikeouts and a 1.55 ERA. He was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 34th round of the 2007 MLB First-Player Draft, but chose to attend Stanford instead where he majored in product design, a craft he hopes to apply to baseball equipment eventually.
After two years of college ball, the Nationals made Storen the 10th pick of the 2009 Draft, and he signed the next day. The Nats also had the first pick that year and chose highly-touted Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg garnered most of the attention with a brilliant start to his career before being sidelined by Tommy John surgery. Storen has been a constant in the year that Strasburg was rehabbing.
"That was a good situation for me," Storen said. "To come in here with Stras. That's been great."
Together, they form the nucleus of a promising Washington pitching staff.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.