Marlon Byrd was walking to his car, ready for another ho-hum night at a mostly empty Citi Field in late August, when his cellphone rang.
It was the call he’d been waiting on for a long time, the one summoning him to a pennant race.
Traded from the New York Mets to Pittsburgh, he quickly became a key part of the Pirates. Quite a change from where he was last October – playing for the Culiacan Tomato Growers in Mexico, trying to resurrect his career.
“Twelve seasons, first postseason appearance. I’m trying to soak it all in and at the same time stay focused. You look at the crowd and you get lost in the energy and atmosphere. Just having a heck of a time,” he said Sunday.
Same for Jake Peavy, Justin Morneau, John Axford and others whose fortunes changed with late trades. All eight teams in the division series boosted themselves with midseason moves, adding the likes of Delmon Young, Jose Iglesias and Brian Wilson.
In fact, both pitchers originally listed to start Game 4 at Dodger Stadium – Freddy Garcia of Atlanta and Ricky Nolasco of Los Angeles – switched sides during the year. The Dodgers changed plans Monday and said ace Clayton Kershaw would work on three days’ rest.
Right before the All-Star break, Nolasco went from the last-place Miami Marlins to a team with a chance to advance.
“It was in my mind. I knew the Dodgers had been playing well when I got traded over, and I knew the possibility of us winning this division. I was excited about it, and definitely ready for the opportunity now,” he said Sunday.
Garcia bumped around even more. Cut by San Diego in spring training, he was pitching in the minors for Baltimore when the Braves got him shortly before September.
A two-time All-Star, the 37-year-old Garcia had once been a steady postseason presence, helping the White Sox win the 2005 World Series. No longer a hard thrower, he was sent to Triple-A by Atlanta and had wondered whether it was time to retire.
“At one point you think about it,” he said. “But if you keep pitching, you’re feeling good, you still get people out.”
Not that this year’s journey was any fun.
“Oh, that wasn’t easy, man. Being in Triple-A, being in the big leagues for so long and then this year being in San Diego, Baltimore and now with the Braves, it’s been hard for me,” he said Sunday.
“But more hard for my family. It’s being away from my family, my kids. But now I’m here and I just can’t wait till tomorrow,” he said.
Peavy and shortstop Jose Iglesias were part of the same three-team deal in late July. Peavy went from the White Sox to pitch for Boston and Iglesias moved from the Red Sox to Detroit.
“This is my 12th season in the major leagues. I’ve had some incredible experiences, and I couldn’t ever think of feeling any more like a family, or like I belonged in San Diego, because that was all I knew,” he said. “And even in Chicago had some great teams, great teammates, coaching staff and great memories.”
“But the day I walked in this clubhouse I felt like I was home. I felt like this is where I was meant to be. I belong with this group of players, with this group of coaching staff and front office and with this group of fans. This is where I belong,” he said.
The Tigers sent highly touted outfielder Avisail Garcia to Chicago as part of the big swap.
“I assume Garcia will be successful for the White Sox for a long time, but that’s how trades are supposed to work,” Tigers manager Jim Leyland said recently. “Somebody is not supposed to get the piece of gold and somebody gets something out of the Cracker Jack box, that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. So it was a good trade for everybody.”
Oakland catcher Kurt Suzuki, Dodgers infielder Michael Young and Atlanta infielder Elliot Johnson also reached the playoffs because of in-season deals.
Morneau went from Minnesota to Pittsburgh and Axford joined the St. Louis bullpen.
“I think getting a guy like Axford who has a lot of experience and who knows what it takes to win was a good move for us,” Cardinals third baseman David Freese said. “We didn’t know him too well on the personal level, but once he got over here he fit right in. He’s helped us.”
The bearded Wilson, the closer when San Francisco won the 2010 World Series, wound up in relief for the Dodgers.
“The experience has been he’s a guy that’s obviously been there. A little bit of a different animal, but he never seems too stressed about anything and keeps everything pretty loose in our clubhouse,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The Rays plucked Young from the scrap heap. They also acquired outfielder David DeJesus and reliever Wesley Wright.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said the team considers a lot of factors when deciding whether to add a player to the midseason mix.
“I think you’re always going to look at the overwhelming physical abilities first. I think every sport does that,” he said. “But beyond that, I think we’re real careful in vetting ... the personality itself.”
“What kind of guy is he?” he added. “Have we heard from other people what he’s like? How does he handle moments? How is he in the clubhouse? How is he with the teammates? All of that stuff is brought up regarding all of the guys.”