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Mets Reliever Buddy Carlyle Puts ‘Journey’ in Journeyman

Carlyle posted a posting a 1.45 ERA in 27 outings last season.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Last February, journeyman pitcher Earl “Buddy” Carlyle, whose name sounds more like that of an old vaudeville star or a 1950’s era lounge singer, was without a job and just hoping to pitch again. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much of a market for a middling 36-year old reliever with a career 5.58 ERA. So he sent an email to Paul DePodesta, who is the Mets’ vice president of player development and one of the many acquaintances that Carlyle has made during his two decades now in pro baseball.

“You just never know. If I didn’t truly believe I could pitch in the big leagues I would of retired,” said Carlyle, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds out of Bellvue East HS (Nebraska) in 1996. “Paul brought me in last year, I just had a relationship with him in the past and the Mets have treated me very well.”

Carlyle had spent all of 2012 and 2013 toiling with the Blue Jays and Braves’ Triple-A teams, but he received a positive reply from DePodesta and signed a minor league contract. However, he didn’t receive an invitation to spring training and it was hard to imagine the aging pitcher ever getting another call back to the big-leagues. But one Friday night late in May, an opportunity seemingly arose when he received a call at 11 o’clock summoning him to Philadelphia after New York used eight pitchers and needed an insurance arm for that weekend.

Carlyle said he slept “maybe a couple of hours” before boarding a 6 a.m. flight, arriving at Citizens Bank Park at 2:30 for the 3:05 scheduled first pitch. In the 11th inning of a tie game, manager Terry Collins called on the well-traveled veteran to make his first big-league appearance since June 25, 2011. Carlyle went on to toss three scoreless frames in helping the Mets secure a 5-4 victory, giving him his first victory since he was a member of the Braves back in 2008.

However, it was a quick cameo as he was designated for assignments a few days later, eventually clearing waivers and rejoining the Mets Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas. He continued to thrive down at hitter-friendly Cashman Field for the 51s, earning a third promotion late in July and he hasn’t been back to Sin City since, a place where he’s played over the course of four different seasons — for three different franchises.

Pitching in the majors for the first time since making eight appearances for the Yankees in 2011, Carlyle went on to have the best season of his career last year, posting a 1.45 ERA in 27 outings, which qualified as the eighth lowest ERA among pitchers with 20+ innings. Despite his success, no team offered him a major league contract during the off-season and he settled on a minor league deal with the Mets once again. But this time with an invitation to compete for a role with the team in the spring.

“I don’t really expect anything in this game,” Carlyle told me in the Mets locker room. “I just come in and try to compete and whatever situation I’m in I try to do the best I can.”

After the Mets acquired lefties Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres towards the end of spring training, it was assumed that Carlyle would be the odd man out because of a numbers game. He had an opt-out in his contract and could have executed it by Opening Day, but Sandy Alderson decided to take eight relievers and it’s a good thing that happened. On Opening Day, the Mets were clinging to a 3-1 lead over the Nationals heading into the bottom of ninth inning, but their closer at the time, Jenrry Mejia, was unavailable due to elbow stiffness. So the 37-year old Carlyle stepped in for his first career save – becoming the fourth pitcher in major league history to record their first save fifteen years after their MLB debuts, joining Frank Tanana, Livan Hernandez and Jamey Wright.

Carlyle is just one of those guys who never would go away. Since being drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft by the Reds, Carlyle has played for 24 teams — one in Korea, two in Japan, 16 in the minors and five in the majors. He made his big league debut for the Padres in August of 1999 and pitched 5 2/3 hitless innings. He went on to win just one game for San Diego and in 2001, at the age of 23, he was sold to the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan League, where he posted a 7-10 record as a starter.

Following two seasons of work overseas, Carlyle signed a minor league contract with the Royals, who turned him into a relief pitcher. A year later, he signed as a minor league free agent with the New York Yankees and a year after that, he went to the Los Angeles Dodgers, where he made a Major League Opening Day roster for the first time in 2005. He appeared in nine games over one month before being cut. He then signed with the Florida Marlins and he began the 2006 campaign with the Triple-A Albuquerque Isotopes.

But he headed back abroad after he was sold to the Seoul Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization. In 2007 the Braves took a chance on him and he turned a late May emergency start into his first regular major-league gig. He started 20 games for Bobby Cox that year and then appeared in 45 games out of the bullpen in 2008. But the following season he lost energy, 30 pounds and his pitching suffered. He went on the disabled list and visited doctors who diagnosed the problem as Type 1 diabetes.

After getting his weight back in 2010, no team wanted to sign a diabetic and his best opportunity came 6800 miles east – a guaranteed contract back in Japan. After starting off with the Nippon Ham Fighters, based in Sapporo, he was demoted to a small minor league team in a suburb of Tokyo called the Kamagaya Fighters. After living in an extremely tiny apartment with his family, he came back to the U.S. just before the major earthquakes struck.

“Those days are behind me,” said Carlyle, who after a close friend in Japan lost everything, he came to her aid by flying her family to his home in Georgia. “Once I’m done playing here I’m done for good, and ready to go home and be a Dad.”

It’s been quite the baseball journey for Carlyle, who is the last active teammate of the late Padres great Tony Gwynn, one of only 72 pitchers in baseball history to record an immaculate inning — nine pitches, nine strikes, three outs and someone who has dedicated his career to help show children and adults that also have diabetes that their life can continue.

“Diabetes is a big deal for me. To be vocal about it because I want parents to know that if their kids have it they can still do whatever they want,” said Carlyle, who is among several professional athletes who have dealt with the disease as well, including Jay Cutler, Ron Santo and Catfish Hunter. “So some people freak out when they get it, but if you can be out there performing in the major leagues with the disease, it can kind of show them that you can live with it and do whatever they want with it.”

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