Buddy Carlyle's baseball odyssey settled this season in Atlanta and the Braves couldn't be more pleased with the results.
After meandering through six other Major League organizations and pitching in Japan and Korea, Carlyle has become an unlikely puzzle piece in the National League East race.
"He bends a little," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said of the journeyman right-hander. "But he doesn't break. He comes right at you with his stuff. He doesn't pitch around anybody. He goes right after them."
The grit that kept Carlyle going through a vagabond career has paid off for the Braves. Plugged into a pitching staff that was a little short of starters, Carlyle produced some important starts, including five wins over a stretch of six decisions when the Braves needed him most.
Ask Jeff Francoeur about Carlyle's contribution and the slugger doesn't hesitate: "He's been our MVP for what he's come in here and done. He's beaten some top teams, the Mets, the Padres. We're confident with him."
Carlyle understands what the Braves need from him.
"I know my role," he said. "I try to keep my team in every game. I try to give my team a chance to win. If I can do that, I've done my job."
The Braves signed Carlyle as a Minor League free agent last December, a time when teams routinely collect spare parts, hoping to come up with a surprise. He was clearly a long shot, but Atlanta thought he was worth the gamble.
He started the season at Triple-A Richmond and went 5-2 with a 2.59 ERA before the Braves summoned him at the end of May. He got roughed up in his first start, but the Braves stayed with him and when he limited Florida to one hit over seven innings in his second start, he opened some eyes.
Carlyle was one of those guys who just never would go away. He drifted from one organization to another after being drafted by Cincinnati in 1996.
His career started with some promise. There were a couple of 14-win seasons in the Minors and after he was traded to San Diego, he made his Major League debut in 1999 and pitched 5 2/3 hitless innings in his first outing.
It was a nice beginning for him, but he went on to win just one game for the Padres and in 2001, at the age of 23, he drifted to Japan.
"That was a long time ago," he said. "I always planned on coming back."
He pitched one full season with the Hanshin Tigers and struck out 111 batters in 153 1/3 innings. A year later, after just three starts, he left Japan, signing with the Kansas City Royals, who turned him into a relief pitcher. A year later, he signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees and a year after that, he went to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Carlyle made a Major League Opening Day roster for the first time in 2005 when the Dodgers found a spot for him. He appeared in nine games over one month before being cut again.
The Florida Marlins signed him in 2005 and then sold him to the Seoul Tigers. When he was a free agent again last winter, the Braves took a chance.
All that moving around has taught Carlyle some lessons.
"Young pitchers don't always have an idea," he said. "You mature as a pitcher and I think you get to know who you are and what you can do. As I've gotten older, I think that's something I have achieved.
"I'm not going out and throwing 96, 97 mph. I just try to get outs any way I can."
For the Braves, so far so good.
Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.