They came up to him in the clubhouse one-by-one, some with a pat on the head or a hug, some whispering words of encouragement.

Nationals closer Drew Storen said after Friday's shocking 9-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of a National League Division Series that being a big league closer is either the best job in the world or the worst. He found himself on the down side of that equation after allowing four runs in the ninth inning.

After entering spring training in February as a lock to be Washington's closer for a second year in a row, Storen missed three months because of right elbow surgery and had to fight to reclaim his job late in the season. But by the end there was no one else his teammates would rather have protecting a two-run lead.

"I grabbed Drew and told him 'You'll be in this situation again.' This team's young and talented and not going anywhere," teammate Mark DeRosa said. "So he'll be put in this situation again. He's got electric stuff. He was the right man at the right time. Nothing more you can say. He needs to know that he would have got the ball from any one of us."

The irony was Storen late in the season was pitching as well as he had at any point in his breakthrough 2011 season when he had a 2.75 ERA and 43 saves. In his final 16 appearances of the regular season and three more in the playoffs -- 17 innings total in 19 games -- Storen gave up one earned run on nine hits with 17 strikeouts and one walk. That's a 0.52 ERA.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals were his kryptonite. On Sept. 1 he gave up two singles and a stolen base in the ninth inning of a 9-9 game. Storen took the loss that day. He also blew a save in an eventual 6-4 win in St. Louis on Sept. 29 and then had the four-run, three-hit, two-walk disaster on Friday.

"It's unfortunate that some of this falls back on him. He's been so good since he's come back," first baseman Adam LaRoche said. "And again we all had opportunities to be in a better spot. No, just keep his head up. I told him we need him next year. He's one of the best in the game. We all know it, and I hope he knows it."

That will be the next big test for Storen. Can he put the loss in context and chalk it up to a bad day at the worst time? Can he keep it separate from the narrative that will lump his performance in with the Stephen Strasburg shutdown, a ragged series from Washington's starting pitchers and an offense that went into hibernation too early in Game 5?

"Drew will be fine. Drew went through a lot this year," Ryan Zimmerman said. "He had the stuff with his arm, he didn't get to break camp with us. ... And then for him to come back and be who he was for us at the end of the year and into these playoffs was a good effort by him. I think Drew's going to be a great closer for a long time. He's going to be our guy."