"We're just trying to get outs." -- Jim Riggleman, on lifting Drew Storen in the ninth.
THE RESULT: This story should be about how the Washington Nationals came from behind with a seven-run eighth inning to defeat the Houston Astros 8-4. Or if could he about how John Lannan persevered to pitch seven strong innings after giving up three in the first inning.
It could even be about how Ivan Rodriguez got a little bit redemption in a lousy season, slugging a massive two-run homer to take a lead the Nats wouldn't relinquish.
But it's not.
It's about how the manager of the Washington Nationals, Jim Riggleman, pulled the rug out from underneath his rookie reliever and future closer, Drew Storen.
Storen, granted, had a bit of a tough time of it in the ninth inning, brought into a five-run game. He got the first out of the inning on a strikeout of Jason Michaels, who hit a two-run homer against Lannan in the first inning.
The second batter of the inning, Chris Johnson, lofted a 1-1 pitch to the bullpen in left center field, cutting the lead to 8-4. Storen got shortstop Tommy Manzella to ground back to him, making a nice grab on the comebacker to get the second out of the inning.
Storen then lost catcher Jason Castro on a 3-2 pitch after two foul balls.
At that point, Riggleman came out and lifted the young reliever, though the man coming to the plate could not tie the game or bring the winning run to home plate. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth in a four-run game with a man on first, Riggleman decided that instead of building confidence in a rookie that struggled his last time on the mound, he needed to bring in a lefty to make pinch-switch-hitter Geoff Blum bat right-handed.
Blum is a career .250/.311/.385 hitter over 12 MLB seasons.
Storen was visibly upset as he left the mound, and he stormed into the runway to the clubhouse. He had every right to be upset. And there are no quotes from him coming from the clubhouse after the game.
Burnett got a pop-up to end the game, and officially seal the Nats all-important 63rd win of the season, ensuring that even if they lose every single game remaining, they will not lose 100 games for the third consecutive year.
But at what cost?
The shattered confidence of one of the proclaimed cornerstones of this franchise? A potentially damaged relationship between the groomed closer and his caretaker manager?
I asked Riggleman in the post-game press conference if something specific bothered him about Storen's performance that caused him to pull the reliever, despite the fact he could not have given up the lead to the next batter. Riggleman easily could have said the walk bothered him enough to go get Storen. And I would probably be writing about the comeback.
But that is not what he said. This was:
"We don't have any specific role for anybody, we're just trying to get outs and I felt like the best way to get that next out was to bring Burnett in. Did I think Drew would get the next out? Yeah. But I was a little more confident that [Burnett] coming in fresh there to face a guy off the bench, but turn him around right-handed, was a little more to our liking."
So no specific roles in the bullpen. But Riggleman felt it was a better matchup to bring a left-handed pitcher in to make a .250 career-hitting switch-hitter hit right-handed (his better side) rather than allow a rookie pitcher finish the job you're grooming him for -- when he couldn't give up the lead or bring the winning run up to the plate -- expressing a lack of confidence in him both by actions and by words.
Maybe I'm overreacting, in which case please feel free to tell me in the comments.
But sometimes process needs to play out. Sometimes you have to let rookie pitchers work out of their own jams. Sometimes you have to manage with the bigger picture in mind instead of acting like it's the seventh game of the World Series every night.
THE GOOD: Pudge Rodriguez. His OBP for the season may still be under .300, but the two-run homer he hit to tie the game hit half-way up the foul pole in left field. After the Nats left runners on in scoring position in each of the two previous innings, it was a much needed blast.
Lannan's deeds cannot go ignored either. Roughed up for three runs in the first, it looked like a long night. But Lannan settled down, retiring 12 straight at one point. He went seven full, allowing just the three runs on six hits and one walk, striking out three.
THE BAD: Danny Espinosa went 0-for-4, lowering his average to .212. He did make several stellar plays at second base though throughout the evening.
THE UGLY: I think I already covered that.
THE STATS: 9 Ks, 6 BBs, 5-for-13 with RISP, 9 LOB, 0 GIDP.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday v. Houston at 7:05 pm. Jason Marquis (2-9, 7.71) faces Wandy Rodriguez (11-12, 3.65).
NATS NOTES: Announced attendance tonight was 11,893. Actual attendance appeared to be much lower than that.
NATS PHOTOS: Photo gallery on Off the Field.
NATS PHOTOS: Photo gallery on Off the Field.