MILWAUKEE -- Welcome back, Corey Hart. The Brewers sure missed you.
Hart shrugged off his slow start to the season, an 0-for-11 slump and a terrible Monday afternoon batting practice to deliver three home runs and seven RBIs, tying franchise records on both counts and powering the surging Brewers to an 11-3 win over the Nationals at Miller Park.
Hart admitted he needed a night like this. He was homerless -- with only one RBI in his first 21 games of 2011 -- after rushing back from the disabled list, where he spent most of April recovering from a rib-cage strain.
"Hopefully, I can start something and keep it going," Hart said.
Yovani Gallardo won his fourth straight start and the Brewers won their seventh straight home game -- thanks largely to Hart, who felt so awful about his pregame batting practice that he overhauled his batting stance and went to the indoor cages with hitting coach Dale Sveum for more swings. He changed the position of his hands and his feet, and came out swinging.
"I was pulling my hair out, looking for things," Hart said. "I changed my stance for the last round of BP, and that's what I went with."
It worked, and some history was in order: Hart became the first Brewer to slug three home runs in a game since Geoff Jenkins in 2003, and the first to drive in seven runs since Damian Miller in 2007. Ten different Brewers on 15 occasions have hit three homers, and five players have logged seven RBIs.
Hart's historic night overshadowed yet another solid start for Gallardo, who allowed only one run in seven quality innings and improved to 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA in his last four turns through a starting rotation that's on a roll.
It was the 11th quality start (at least six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs allowed) in the Brewers' last 16 games. Brewers starters are 11-2 over that span.
"I know the adjustments I have to make during the game, and that's huge," said Gallardo, who slammed the door on the Nationals in the sixth inning after Washington put two runners on base with a single and an error. He retired the next two hitters to escape.
Hart gave Gallardo some early breathing room by connecting against Nationals starter Tom Gorzelanny for a two-run, first-inning home run. Two batters later, Prince Fielder hit a solo shot to almost the same spot for a 3-0 lead.
Hart homered again in the fifth inning against Gorzelanny, who was charged with six earned runs through five innings. And Hart hit another in the Brewers' five-run eighth inning, a three-run shot to left field that earned Hart a curtain call from 22,906 fans.
"Hart was not to be denied tonight," Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said.
"Corey is a streaky hitter, and Dale keeps telling me that he's going to find it," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "When he finds it, he's going to do this kind of stuff. I think he needed it. I know [from] talking to him Saturday night after the game, he's been a little frustrated."
Roenicke chatted with Hart on Saturday night to inform the player he'd be on the bench on Sunday, when the Brewers faced Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies. The day to re-charge apparently worked against Gorzelanny.
The first inning has given the Nationals' left-hander trouble all season. Gorzelanny has surrendered 11 of his 26 runs (25 earned runs) in the opening inning, and six of his 11 home runs.
"Every mistake is over the fence," Gorzelanny said. "Bad things happen when I make a mistake. I just have to hope it doesn't happen again."
All three times, Hart's blast scored Rickie Weeks, who was hit by a pitch in the first inning, singled in the fifth and walked in the eighth. Ryan Braun, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jonathan Lucroy contributed two hits apiece, and Braun extended his hitting streak to 13 games.
This was more like it for the Brewers, who beat the Rockies on Sunday despite collecting only two hits. A 12-hit Monday night was more befitting a team with baseball's best home batting average (.292) and the National League's best home winning percentage (.739, 17-6).
For Hart, this was more like it, too. After winning back the starting-right-field job from Jim Edmonds early in 2010, Hart belted 31 home runs, started in right field for the National League All-Stars and signed a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension that promised to spare him any more early-season drama.
Drama followed him anyway. Hart strained a muscle along his left rib cage in a late-February Spring Training defensive drill and didn't have an at-bat until the rest of the team had departed Arizona for Cincinnati and the start of the regular season. After a series of steps forward and back, he finally rushed back to the big leagues on April 26.
Hart had gone 105 at-bats since hitting his last home run -- 26 at the end last season and 76 more this one -- before squaring-up Gorzelanny's first inning changeup on Monday.
Did he have any regrets about coming back from the DL so soon?
"It was hard, but I wouldn't do anything different," Hart said. "I feel like I'm supposed to be here. It was rough being at Triple-A, being home and watching the guys. I told them I would much rather figure things out up here than figure them out down there."
The Brewers hope he's finally figured those things out.