WASHINGTON -- Wilson Ramos returned to the Nationals' clubhouse on Thursday morning and unwrapped two brand-new black bats in front of his locker.
The 25-year-old catcher didn't hit much in nearly two months on the disabled list. He focused on running, catching and strengthening his strained left hamstring, which has caused him to miss 58 games this season.
But when the Nationals needed his bat most, Ramos delivered.
With two on, two out and the game tied in the seventh inning, Ramos crushed a towering home run off reliever Brandon Kintzler into the left-field seats. He dropped one of those brand-new bats to the ground and stayed completely still, watching the ball sail out of Nationals Park. It was the eventual winning hit in the Nationals' 8-5 victory over the Brewers on the Fourth of July.
"I'm happy for this day, for me, for my family, for my team," he said. "They were waiting for me, for my return. I'm happy, happy for this day. Hopefully I will help the team win a lot of games."
The afternoon crowd of 38,221 roared, and the next batter, Chad Tracy, stalled, giving Ramos enough time to climb the dugout steps for the first curtain call of his career.
"He's a statement player and definitely somebody who's just waiting for his turn in the spotlight," shortstop Ian Desmond said. "I think today he got a lot of recognition, and no one deserves it more than him."
Before the 2012 season, Ramos was kidnapped in his native Venezuela. Then he tore an anterior cruciate ligament. This year, he spent two separate stints on the disabled list with hamstring issues.
On Thursday, he put it all behind him. After going hitless in three rehab games with Class A Potomac, Ramos was 3-for-4 with a career-high five RBIs. He singled up the middle with the bases loaded in the sixth to give the Nationals a 5-2 lead.
"He really swung the bat good in the game today," Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez said. "You have to give credit sometimes to the other team."
But Ramos wasn't alone. In an effort to kick start his struggling offense, manager Davey Johnson swapped Desmond and right fielder Jayson Werth in the batting order and the move paid dividends. Desmond, hitting second, padded his All-Star resume by collecting three hits and stealing two bases and Werth, batting sixth, finished 3-for-3 with a walk, two runs and a steal.
"Yeah, that came out all right," Johnson said, smiling. "Once in a while, I have a great idea. They both had great ballgames."
The Nationals scored more runs in the first inning (two) than they had in the past two games combined. The outburst helped them split the four-game series with Milwaukee, move to 43-42 on the season and survive another bad outing by reliever Drew Storen.
After not allowing an earned run in 16 of 17 appearances, Storen was tagged for four runs in the Nationals' loss on Tuesday. On Thursday, it was more of the same.
The former closer gave up a solo shot to pinch-hitter Yunieksy Betancourt and a two-run homer to Gomez that tied the game at 5. Before Thursday, he had not allowed a homer to a right-handed batter in his previous 96 appearances, spanning 86 1/3 innings.
"Storen's trying to trick people instead of just making his pitches," Johnson said. "Maybe that'll be a good learning game."
Before Storen's struggles, rookie starter Taylor Jordan was in line for his first Major League win in his home debut. The right-hander allowed two runs on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, with no walks and three strikeouts. But Storen picked up his third win of the year, as his catcher bailed him out.
"It was a great moment," Ramos said of his homer. "I have to keep working. A lot's happened in my career. A lot of bad moments, good moments. I have to learn from the bad moments and enjoy the good moments."
A few moments before Ramos put the Nationals ahead for good, Johnson turned to bench coach Randy Knorr. Ramos has had a good day, Johnson said, so he might as well just hit one out here.
"And boom," Johnson said. "Sure enough, he did."