Drew Storen has pitched in plenty of pressure situations during his three major-league seasons, most of them coming in the ninth inning with his team clinging to a slim lead.
Something about Wednesday night's appearance, though, felt more significant than perhaps any of the 146 previous ones Storen made for the Nationals. Even though it occurred in the eighth inning.
Summoned by manager Davey Johnson to face the heart of the Marlins' lineup with two runners in scoring position and the Nationals leading 6-4, Storen proceeded to retire all three batters he faced and hold that lead heading into the ninth.
Was that an especially big outing for the 25-year-old reliever?
"I think it was," Storen said. "I think the biggest thing for me was I didn't get over-amped. That's kind of the biggest thing that I looked at as the biggest positive. Because it's easy to get in those situations and get fired up ... so it's a step forward for me. I didn't feel like I tried to do too much, and that's kind of the way I look at it."
Nearly five months removed from surgery to remove a bone chip from his elbow and more than a month since he returned to the mound, Storen finally appears to be back to his old self. After battling inconsistent command from one appearance to the next, he's retired all 10 batters faced over his last four games.
"I think he's all the way back," Johnson said.
All the way back, though, doesn't necessarily mean Storen will be given his old job back. With Tyler Clippard continuing to pitch effectively as the Nationals' closer, Johnson plans to keep Storen in a setup role, with perhaps the occasional ninth inning thrown his way if Clippard needs a break.
"This is not diminishing how much I like Drew," Johnson said. "It's just that we've got another guy that's doing a great job, too. There may be a time when I have back-to-back situations for Clip, and I like the way the lineup comes up for Drew. Clippard's tongue may not be hanging out when I let Storen close."
There was a point earlier this summer when Storen admittedly felt he deserved to pitch the ninth inning. He's since come to realize he wasn't ready for that responsibility. And even though he's pitching well enough to close games, he understands he's just as valuable to the Nationals pitching in tense, setup situations like he did Wednesday night.
"You look at a lot of the situations last year, a lot of my saves should have gone to Clip, because he was coming in in situations like that and he would essentially lock down the game, and then I'd kind of just put the icing on it," Storen said. "That's just kind of how it was. That's what happens, even in the seventh, eighth and ninth. A lot of times, the save isn't in the ninth. Sometimes, it's before.
"I always joked with Clip last year: 'Dude, you probably got more saves last year than I did.' That's just kind of how it is, and that's the beauty of having a good bullpen."