Drew Storen wasn’t the only Nationals player at fault in the team’s historic collapse in Game 5 of the NLDS, but there is no question he will be remembered for what happened. He allowed four runs in the ninth inning, two to tie and two to win, as the St. Louis Cardinals completed their improbable comeback to advance.
After the game and ever since Storen has been graceful in owning up to his mistakes, saying that he stuck to his gameplan and the Cardinals just plain beat it. Now, however, a new theory has emerged as to why he couldn’t get that final third strike.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, and corroborated by the Nationals themselves, Storen was dealing with significant pain due to back spasms on that fateful October night. He may not have acted like he was in pain, and he may still deny it played any sort of role, but evidently it’s true.
Heyman says Storen was dealing with “terrible back pain in Game 5” and had spent considerable time during the previous three days “in the trainers room receiving treatment for back spasms others described as unbearable.”
Heyman also talked to Jayson Werth who acknowledged knowing about the closer’s ailment:
"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."
Injuries coming out after teams get bounced from the playoffs are no new thing. It happens all across sports, especially in hockey and football where the injuries are generally much more severe.
But what makes this perhaps unusual, is Storen’s apparent reluctance to admit the injury ever existed. Heyman said he couldn’t get more than a subtle acknowledgment to the injury and the pitcher didn’t want to talk about it. Lots of times the injuries come out afterwards and it looks like an excuse, clearly Storen isn’t interested in that scenario. It sounds like it was a problem, but not something Storen is willing to blame solely for what happened.
If Storen was in such terrible pain, he did a good job of hiding it on the mound. He was consistently in the mid-90’s with his fastball that night, touching 94 on Daniel Descalso’s game-tying swing and 95 on Pete Kozma’s go-ahead line drive. Sure, command could have been the issue, but that is much more subtle to detect.
Whether the back spasms were a big reason Storen and the Nationals lost the game we’ll truly never know. It does, however, add yet another wrinkle to a game that will go down infamously in the history of the Nationals and D.C. sports.