Journeyman Carlyle Finds a Home in Mets Bullpen
Buddy Carlyle may sound more like the name of a 1950’s era lounge singer, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports recently pointed out on twitter, or an old vaudeville star, as another put it. However, Carlyle is a middling 36-year old reliever, who made his debut back in August of 1999 with the San Diego Padres, and who has surprisingly landed on his feet in Queens as member of the New York Mets bullpen.
Since being drafted in the second round of the 1996 draft by the Cincinnati Reds, Carlyle has played for 24 teams — one in Korea, two in Japan, sixteen in the minors and five in the majors. After pitching in eight games for the Yankees back in 2011, the Omaha, Neb. native spent the last two years toiling in minors and played for the Braves and Blue Jays Triple-A affiliates.
In February, he signed a contract with the Mets without an invitation to spring training, and it was hard to imagine the aging pitcher with a career 5.58 ERA ever getting another call back to the big-leagues.
“You don’t lose hope, but I’m realistic of how old I am, situations and how hard it is to get here in the first place, let alone getting older,” Carlyle told me after the Mets defeated the Chicago Cubs on Friday night. “But if I didn’t think that I can still pitch here, I would have retired. But obviously it gets harder and harder as you age to get opportunities.”
One Friday night late in May, he received a call at 11 o’clock that summoned him to Philadelphia after New York used eight pitchers and needed an insurance arm for that weekend. This was the opportunity that he had been waiting for. The right-hander 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 tied game, manager Terry Collins called on the well-traveled veteran to make his first big-league appearance since June 25, 2011, and Carlyle went on to toss three scoreless frames, which helped the Mets secure a 5-4 victory, and gave him his first win since he was a member of the Braves six years ago. But it was a quick cameo as he was designated for assignments a few days later, eventually clearing waivers and rejoining the 51s.
He continued to thrive down at hitter-friendly Cashman Field in Vegas, earning a third promotion late in July and he hasn’t been back to Sin City since. Carlyle is unscored upon in 12 of his 13 appearances and he’s riding an 11 1/3-inning scoreless streak, the longest of any Mets reliever this season. He has a 0.74 WHIP and his 0.55 ERA is the lowest among all pitchers with 15 or more innings. Although he has pitched only 16 1/3 innings and most of his work has come in low-leverage situations, Carlyle knows it’s a blessing to simply be back in the majors after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2009.
“It’s been a long road, a lot of contemplating maybe retiring and stuff like that,” said Carlyle, who has spent the majority of his 19-year professional career in the minor leagues and overseas. “It’s very gratifying just to be here.”
His superb pitching thus far has earned the recent trust of Collins in tighter games, as he was called upon to pitch the ninth inning in Saturday’s 7-3 win and part of the eighth inning in a two-run contest against the Phillies last Monday, where he collected his first big-league hold since May of 2009.
Obviously, there is no guarantee that he will be back in Queens next year, or even in the majors again for that matter. But regardless, a baseball lifer like himself will always remain involved with the game.
“I definitely want to coach, but not right away. I kind of have aspirations of maybe doing some scouting for a while. I don’t want to coach until my kids are out of school, so once my kids get done with school, I’d like to get back into it.”
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 a strong advocate of standing up to diabetes.
“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 checks his blood sugar up to five times a game. “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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