- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wilson Ramos crossed home plate, pointing his fingers to the sky and then to the stands. He smiled. His 15th home run of the season bounced around in the Red Porch seats in center field as he made his way into the Washington Nationals’ dugout and was swarmed by teammates.

In the 23rd consecutive game Ramos had started — the longest stretch for any catcher in the majors this season — he soaked in the moment.

“He’s hard to take out of the lineup,” said manager Davey Johnson. “We’ve missed him for two years.”

Ramos was the unquestioned star in a game filled with them — Bryce Harper was 3-for-5, Ian Desmond was 2-for-4 with three RBI, and Denard Span went 2-for-5 to extend his hitting streak to 26 games — as the Nationals sealed an 11-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on a sunsplashed afternoon at Nationals Park.

But the full value of what the Nationals had done wasn’t felt until almost an hour later, when from within the various corners of the home clubhouse they roared while watching the Milwaukee Brewers complete a furious comeback and walk-off against the Cincinnati Reds.

“Get up! Get up!” came one voice from a largely empty clubhouse as the players scattered to various unseen corners to watch the finish to the Reds game and Sean Halton’s game-winning home run took flight. “Yeah!”

Their playoff hopes hinge now not only on their own performance, which has been exceptional of late with 25 wins in their last 35 games, but on that of the Reds. They cannot get in without help, but they also must continue to win.

“The only thing we can control right now is us winning,” said Jordan Zimmermann, who tossed seven innings and allowed two runs to earn his 18th victory of the season. “But I’ll trade all those [personal] wins in for a spot in the playoffs.”

If the Nationals’ last push for the postseason falls short, one of their biggest unanswered questions will be how much of an impact Ramos may have made had he been healthy all season. After missing most of the 2012 season with a torn ACL and meniscus, Ramos missed 58 of the Nationals’ first 84 games this season with a twice-strained left hamstring.

He’s hit .294 with 13 home runs and 49 RBI since returning.

“I believe in what I can do,” said Ramos. “I know I had two injuries and I lost 2 1/2 months. But I know if I stay healthy all year I can do a better job than what I’m doing right now. The season is not over yet.”

The coaching staff has pushed Johnson to give him a day off during this stretch. Bench coach Randy Knorr, a former major league catcher himself, frets about the 26-year-old’s twice-strained left hamstring. Ramos ices it after games and wraps it during them. He runs methodically to first base on the advice of the coaches.

But his play rarely indicates any strain this stretch is taking on him. Sunday morning, as he reclined in a folding chair in front of his locker, Ramos smiled when asked about his 23rd straight start. “I’m excited,” he said. “Because after today, I may rest.”

Then he played as if it was the first game of this string, going 4-for-4 with five RBI — including three singles and the homer. With his 15th home run of the year he broke his own Nationals record for home runs as a catcher and improved upon his totals for the entire 2011 season. As he soaked in the final out from the dugout, Ramos thought about what he had accomplished on this day.

It was, he figured, the best day he’s ever had in the major leagues.

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