Davey on change: 'Once in a while I have a great idea"
Sure, Bryce Harper's return from a five-week stint on the disabled list was going to provide a significant boost to the Nationals. Ask around the clubhouse, though, and there was just as much anticipation for Wilson Ramos' return from a hamstring injury that cost him a total of nine weeks over two separate DL stints.
"He's a statement player, and definitely somebody who's just waiting for his turn in the spotlight," teammate Ian Desmond said. "I think today he got a lot of recognition, and no one deserves it more than him."
There haven't been a ton of heartwarming moments for the Nationals so far in 2013, but the scene in the bottom of the seventh inning on Thursday — Ramos emerging from the dugout for a curtain call from the crowd of 38,221 after his three-run homer put his team in position for an 8-5 victory over the Brewers — ranks right up there with anything else.
Given all that he's been through over the last two years — a kidnapping in Venezuela, a torn ACL, this latest nagging hamstring strain — Ramos soaked in every second of it all.
"That was a happy moment, an exciting moment," he said. "I never did that before."
Ramos' three-run blast off Milwaukee reliever Brandon Kintzler transformed what was turning into another nightmare of an afternoon at the ballpark into one of the Nationals' most-rousing victories of the season. Up 5-2 entering the seventh, they watched in horror as Drew Storen served up a pair of home runs, including a two-run bomb to Carlos Gomez that left the game tied and left many in the crowd booing the struggling reliever, who now sports a 5.40 ERA.
Storen was done in by what manager Davey Johnson described as his penchant for "trying to trick people," instead of relying on well-placed fastballs to get hitters out. Each home run on Thursday came after Storen shook off signs from Ramos, wanting to throw offspeed pitches instead of fastballs.
"He had a tendency to try and overpower and trick people, and he doesn't have to trick people with that stuff," Johnson said. "But like I say, hopefully he'll learn. Because he shook off a bunch of times today to get to the hanging changeup and the hanging breaking ball."
Back in the dugout for the bottom of the seventh, the game now tied, Ramos tried to keep things positive and refocus on his upcoming at-bat.
"That happens in the game," he said of the game-tying homer. "We can't say nothing. We can just learn. We learn in those situations: We have to fight nine innings. That's what we did."
Indeed, the Nationals picked up their sullen reliever with an impressive rally against the Milwaukee bullpen. Jayson Werth (moved down to the sixth spot in the order in a swap with Desmond) singled to left to reach base for the fourth time in as many plate appearances. Anthony Rendon then drew a walk, bringing Ramos to the plate.
He had already singled in the fourth and singled in a pair of runs in the sixth, enough to be perfectly content with his first big-league game in nearly seven weeks. But Johnson expected more from his catcher.
"I was talking to [bench coach] Randy [Knorr], I said: 'He's had a good day, he might as well just hit one out here.'"
Kintzler's first-pitch slider, 82 mph, sailed high out of the zone, and Ramos took it for ball one. He couldn't wait to see another.
"Yeah, he threw me the first one," Ramos said. "After that, he threw me another one. I said: 'Give me that one.'"
Ramos crushed the hanging breaking ball, sending it flying deep to left and drawing a roar from the near-sellout crowd. He stood to admire the homer for a moment, then rounded the bases and returned to a throng of high-fives in the dugout.
As the crowd continued to roar, Chad Tracy stepped out of the batter's box, giving Ramos time to recognize what was being requested and take a few steps out of the dugout to acknowledge the cheers. Not only for what he did on this day, but for all he overcame to have this opportunity in the first place.
"A lot of people worked hard to make this happen," Ramos said. "After you work hard, you get this day, you feel great."