Carlos Villanueva (Courtesy of Trading Card Database)

September 15, 2006: Carlos Villanueva collects first hit, first RBI, and first win in a thesaurus-worthy outing

This article was written by Larry DeFillipo

A lot of long relievers are ashamed to tell their parents what they do. The only nice thing about it is that you get to wear a uniform like everybody else.” – Jim Bouton1


Carlos Villanueva (Courtesy of Trading Card Database)There are all manner of relief pitchers in baseball – closers, set-up men, middle relief pitchers, left-handed and right-handed specialists, and, of course, long relievers. Family dynamics aside, effective long relievers are cherished by major-league managers, even though their role has diminished in the twenty-first century, as pitcher-management strategies seek to minimize the number of times a reliever will face an opposing lineup.

Nonetheless, expectations for long relievers are largely unchanged from what St. Louis Cardinals manager Harry Walker described in the 1950s: “a pitcher of stamina to replace a faltering starter in an early inning and hold the opposition four, five or six frames.”2

One of the most effective long relievers in the 2000s, as measured by won-lost record, was Carlos Villanueva. During his 11-season career, which began with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006, he was 5-0 in 11 relief outings of four or more innings, with a 2.90 ERA.3 No other reliever made as many long-relief appearances or earned even half as many long-relief victories over that time span.4

The Dominican-born Villanueva’s first win in long relief might have been his most impressive: a six-inning gem against the Washington Nationals during his rookie season, in which he contributed with his bat as well as his arm.

The 2006 Brewers were approaching the franchise’s 14th consecutive season without a winning record when they arrived in Washington in mid-September at 66-80, holding down fourth place in the National League Central Division.5 In their second season since they emerged from the remnants of the Montreal Expos, the Nats, as they were called in the D.C. area, were 20 games below .500 and last in the NL East Division.  

While both teams had added many new faces in summertime trades,6 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s preview of the three-game series had highlighted a pair of homegrown youngsters vying for Rookie of the Year honors.7 Ryan Zimmerman, the Nats’ 21-year-old third baseman, was hitting .283, with 41 doubles and 96 RBIs. Prince Fielder, the 22-year-old son of former slugger Cecil Fielder, who manned first base for the Brewers, was hitting .276 with an .835 OPS and 25 home runs.8

The Friday night contest at aged RFK Stadium9 on September 15 drew 21,168, the smallest crowd for a Nats home game since early July. Manager Frank Robinson sent Ramon Ortiz (10-13, 5.19 ERA) to the hill for Washington, looking for the eight-year veteran to extend his personal three-game winning streak against Milwaukee.10

Opposite Ortiz was Japanese hurler Tomo Ohka (4-5), acquired from the Nats the season before. He’d lost four of his last five decisions and had seen his ERA balloon by nearly two runs (from 2.87 to 4.83) since July 23.

Ortiz set the Brewers down in order in the top of the first. In the bottom of the inning, Alfonso Soriano – one steal shy of becoming the fourth player to hit 40 home runs and steal 40 bases in a season11 – drew a leadoff walk. Ohka caught Soriano leaning, but his wild pickoff attempt allowed the Nats left fielder to reach second.

After Felipe Lopez’s bunt single put runners on the corners with nobody out, Zimmerman grounded into a double play, killing hopes of a big rally but bringing Soriano home.

The Brewers went ahead in the second. Fielder stroked a double to center and scored one out later when Geoff Jenkins homered into the right-field seats. Benched for the last three weeks of August and into early September, Jenkins, the Brewers’ longest tenured player, was continuing a torrid (10-for-21) stretch since returning to the lineup.12

In the bottom of the second, Ohka worked around a one-out single by Brian Schneider to keep the score where it was. On the first play of the next inning, those two were involved in a fateful moment.

After falling behind 0-and-2, Ohka hit a slow grounder to second baseman Jose Vidro. Ohka ran hard to first, beating Vidro’s throw. “He sniffed that hit,” said Brewers manager Ned Yost,13 but it came at a cost. Ohka had pulled his right hamstring.

Only later did Ohka realize that Schneider had hit his bat as he swung. He never heard home-plate umpire Jim Joyce call catcher’s interference.14 Ohka’s hustle resulted in his second major injury in four months, and the end of his season.15  

Not wanting to use a position player so early in the game, Yost had starting pitcher Chris Capuano run for Ohka.16 Capuano advanced to second on Tony Graffanino’s infield single and to third on Corey Hart’s groundout but was left stranded.

With the Brewers ahead, 2-1, Villanueva took Ohka’s place on the mound for the bottom of the inning.

Recently recalled for his third stint of the year with Milwaukee, the 22-year-old Villanueva had spent the past 10 weeks with Triple-A Nashville. Used there primarily as a starter, he combined with two relievers to no-hit the Memphis Redbirds and carried a perfect game into the eighth inning of another start.17

Villanueva had made his big-league debut on May 23; this was his seventh appearance with Milwaukee. Yost was counting on Villanueva’s four-pitch repertoire (fastball, slider, curve, and changeup) to hold the lead as long as he could.

Villanueva fanned the first batter he faced, Soriano, then set the side down in order. In the fourth, Milwaukee doubled its lead when with one out Jenkins hit his second home run of the game, an opposite-field blast to left-center field.18

Jeff Cirillo followed with a line-drive double down the left-field line.19 Ortiz hit the next batter, Mike Rivera, putting runners on first and second for Villanueva’s first at-bat of the game.20

Expecting a sacrifice, the corner infielders charged as Ortiz delivered his first pitch. Villanueva, hitless in six career plate appearances, faked a bunt, then slapped the ball into left field: a perfect “slug bunt.”21 Cirillo scored, with Rivera moving to third.22

Rookie Tony Gwynn Jr., who’d rejoined Milwaukee days earlier after spending a month in Triple A,23 drove a sacrifice fly to center, bringing Rivera home to extend the Brewers’ lead to 5-1.

Villanueva needed 11 pitches to retire the Nats in order in the fourth, starting with a groundout from Nick Johnson, whose .431 on-base percentage was second-best in the NL heading into the game. It took Villanueva just nine pitches for a perfect fifth, as George Lombard, batting for Ortiz, grounded out on the first pitch to end the inning.

After Ortiz’s departure, three inexperienced Washington pitchers – Chris Schroder (appearing in his 16th major-league game), Chris Booker (in his ninth game), and Brett Campbell (in his third game) – combined for four perfect innings, but Villaneuva remained in control for the Brewers.

Soriano and Lopez fanned in the sixth before Zimmerman flied out to right. In the seventh, all three Nats hitters skied out to Gwynn in center field.  

Schneider became Villanueva’s fifth strikeout victim and 16th consecutive batter retired to start the eighth. The streak ended when Nook Logan’s grounder went through Fielder’s legs for an error, but Villanueva was unaffected, retiring the next two hitters to end the inning.

Lopez tripled to right field on Villanueva’s first pitch of the bottom of the ninth. Zimmerman drove the next one to left for a single, scoring Lopez and ending Villanueva’s night at 74 pitches.

Brewers closer Francisco Cordero came in and retired Johnson, then walked Vidro, bringing the tying run to the plate. He struck out Ryan Church but walked Schneider to load the bases.

Robinson had speedster Melvin Dorta run for Schneider24 and sent up Austin Kearns to hit for Logan. Kearns, who’d never faced Cordero before, battled. He fouled off four straight pitches before going down swinging to end the game and give Villanueva his first major-league win.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s summary called Villanueva’s RBI single the turning point of the game.25 Asked to describe his outing, Villanueva said, “There’s no words to describe it – it was pretty special.”26

“He had so much poise and mound presence,” said Yost, who mentioned that umpire Joyce, in his 17th season, called Villanueva’s changeup “one of the best … he has ever seen.”27 Unable to find just the right superlative to describe Villaneuva’s performance, Yost half-joked, “I need to break out my thesaurus.”28

Filling in for Ohka, Villanueva started and threw seven scoreless innings five days later against the NL Central Division-leading St. Louis Cardinals. Ortiz lost two of his next three starts to finish with a league-leading 16 losses.

In 2007 Villanueva made 59 appearances as the Brewers had their first winning season since 1992. Though never part of a playoff series-winning team, Villanueva pitched 5⅔ hitless innings of relief across three NL Division Series appearances for the Brewers and Cardinals. He also became the first Brewers relief pitcher to collect a hit in a playoff game when he singled in Game Three of Milwaukee’s 2008 NLDS against the eventual World Series winners, the Philadelphia Phillies.


Author’s Note

My wife and I attended this game with our two preteen daughters and their like-named girlfriends, Maddie and Madi. Having an entire 350-plus-seat section of the left-field upper deck all to ourselves, the girls had a blast hearing their cheers echo across a sea of empty sections to our left. They particularly enjoyed serenading Brewers starting pitcher Tomo Ohka, for no apparent reason other than that they could read his number (55) when he walked out from the bullpen. The highlight of the night was our raucous little group getting 15 seconds of fame on the RFK Jumbotron when Screech, the Nationals mascot, stopped by our nosebleed seats.



This article was fact checked by Laura Peebles and copy-edited by Len Levin.



In addition to the Sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted the,,,, and websites for pertinent material and the box scores.



1 “Jim Bouton Quotes,”, accessed November 11, 2022, During his 10-season career, the irreverent Ball Four author had 14 relief appearances in which he pitched four innings or more. He was 5-0 with one save and a 1.89 ERA in those outings.

2 Bob Broeg, “Cards Call Up Omaha Ace, 12-5 Schmidt,” The Sporting News, July 20, 1955: 11.

3 Villanueva’s ERA in long relief was a sparkling 1.77 until he allowed seven earned runs in his final long-relief outing in August of 2016.

4 Jerome Williams was the only other reliever to have double-digit long-relief outings (10) over that period. Since 2000, Tommy Milone has had the most relief outings of four innings or more, with 18 through the 2022 season. His record is 3-8 in those games.

5 The Brewers were 81-81 in 2005 and had not finished the season with more wins than losses since they went 92-70 in 1992.

6 In a seven-week period from July 13 to September 1, the Nationals added promising young major leaguers Austin Kearns, Felipe Lopez, Nook Logan, and Ryan Wagner, plus several minor leaguers, in exchange for veterans Livan Hernandez, Mike Stanton, Marlon Anderson, Royce Clayton, Daryle Ward, and other less accomplished players. By contrast, the Brewers brought on veteran players in the summer of 2006 in an effort to make the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Brewers manager Ned Yost joked in early August that after the acquisition of Kevin Mench, David Bell, Francisco Cordero, and Tony Graffanino in a four-day span, “the team would need to start wearing name tags to identify each other.” The Brewers were 4½ games out of first in the NL Central Division as late as August 24 before a 10-game losing streak ended their postseason hopes. Dennis Semrau, “Roster Fixes Have Upside for Brewers,” Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), August 1, 2006: D1.

7 “Ripe Rookies,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 16, 2006: 5C. The Baltimore Sun snarkily suggested watching the game to “see two teams trying to avoid a 90-loss season.” “Best Bets,” Baltimore Sun, September 15, 2006: F2.

8 Ryan Zimmerman ultimately finished second to the Florida Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez in voting for the 2006 National League Rookie of the Year. Prince Fielder finished seventh.

9 Located two miles east of the US Capitol Building, RFK Stadium opened in October 1961, known then as D.C. Stadium. Built on federal land, it was renamed in January 1969 in honor of Robert F. Kennedy. RFK was home to the 1961 expansion Washington Senators until they departed for Texas in 1972 and the NFL Washington Redskins until they moved to a new stadium in Lanham, Maryland, in 1997. Associated Press, “RFK Stadium,” Akron Beacon Journal, January 19, 1969: A21; “RFK Stadium,” Stadiums of Pro Football website,,beginning%20to%20show%20its%20age, accessed November 12, 2022.

10 Signed in December 2005 as a free agent, Ortiz boasted a résumé that included a win in the 2002 World Series for the World Series champion Anaheim Angels.

11 Soriano finally joined Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez in the 40-40 club the next night, swiping second base in the first inning off Brewers starter Dave Bush. He’d come close with the Yankees in 2002 but finished with 39 home runs and a league-leading 41 stolen bases that year. Six days before the opening of the Nats-Brewers series, Soriano had set a new franchise single-season record with 45 home runs, eclipsing future Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero’s record of 44, set six years earlier. “Game Report”; Ed Eagle, “40-40 Club; 40 Steals, 40 Homers in a Season,” November 8, 2021, website,

12 Jenkins was in his ninth season with Milwaukee after making his major-league debut with them in April 1998. Jeff Cirillo had first joined the Brewers four years earlier but spent the 2000-2004 seasons playing for the Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres.

13 Tom Haudricourt, “Villanueva Eager to Please,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 17, 2006: 13C.

14 “Villanueva Eager to Please.”

15 Ohka had missed 2½ months with a rotator cuff injury he suffered in early May. “Villanueva Eager to Please.”

16 This was the first time Capuano had ever pinch-run in the majors.

17 The no-hitter was the first absorbed by the Memphis Redbirds in their nine-year history. Tom Haudricourt, “Leaving It All Behind,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 6, 2006: 5C; “Sounds No-Hit Redbirds,” Memphis Commercial Appeal, July 16, 2006: C1.

18 This was the ninth multi-HR game of Jenkins’ career.

19 Cirillo was filling in for regular third baseman David Bell, who was out with a migraine. Bell had supplanted Cirillo at the hot corner when he was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in late July. Cirillo was hitting .322 coming into the game, but in the midst of a 1-for-18 mini-slump. “Game Report,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 16, 2006: 5C.

20 With that HBP, Ortiz tied the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis for the league lead.

21 “Relief effort.”

22 Prior to Villanueva’s single, Milwaukee pitchers had gone hitless in their last 35 at-bats. “Game Report.”

23 Appearing primarily as a pinch-hitter, Gwynn had hit a sizzling .467 (7-for-15) during a four-week stint with Milwaukee during the summer. He became “the odd man out” when the Brewers needed to carry an extra pitcher. Vic Feuerherd, “Weeks Picks Surgery,” Wisconsin State Journal (Madison), August 10, 2006: C2.

24 Though he failed to steal a base in two attempts during his time with the Nationals in 2006, Dorta swiped 36 bases in 48 attempts for Double-A Harrisburg and Triple-A New Orleans that year.

25 “Game Report.”

26 Associated Press, “Villanueva Propels Crew,” Kenosha (Wisconsin) News, September 16, 2006: C5.

27 During the 2006 season, Villanueva threw his changeup, which he used more than 20 percent of the time, more than 7 MPH slower than his fastball, on average. Tom Haudricourt, “Relief Effort,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 16, 2006: 1C.

28 “Relief Effort.”

Additional Stats

Milwaukee Brewers 5
Washington Nationals 2

RFK Stadium
Washington, DC


Box Score + PBP:

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2000s ·