- Adam Rubin, ESPNNewYork.com
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An hour before making his Mets debut in Cincinnati on April 9, 2009, O'Day learned that his close friend, Nick Adenhart, suffered fatal injuries while a passenger in a Mitsubishi Eclipse that was broadsided by an intoxicated minivan driver who ran a red light in Fullerton, Calif.
Unaware that the accident had occurred at 12:23 a.m. PT, O'Day subsequently sent the 22-year-old Adenhart a text message, congratulating his former minor league teammate on his six-scoreless-inning performance with the Angels the previous night.
Understandably, O'Day was unable to maintain his composure on the mound after inheriting two runners from Oliver Perez in the fifth inning at Great American Ball Park. With his second pitch, O'Day hit Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases.
Two batters later, he allowed a two-run single to Paul Janish.
Manager Jerry Manuel had given O'Day the option not to pitch and to leave the team to attend Adenhart's funeral. The sidearm-throwing O'Day decided to pitch that day and remain with the Mets because, as a Rule 5 pick, he believed that missing any opportunity could cost him a roster spot and send him back to the Angels and potentially to the minor leagues.
O'Day's right leg shook violently as he addressed the topic after facing the Reds that day.
"I didn't pitch with the Mets until the day Nick passed, and then I pitched the next three days," O'Day, now in the American League Championship Series with the Rangers, recalled at Yankee Stadium. "To be totally honest, we say we're professionals and we separate life from work, but it's not an easy thing to do.
"Nick helped me through a lot, and I still think about him a lot. It was tough. It certainly was. I remember Jerry telling me, 'Hey, you can go to the services if you want. You should go.' I kind of had that feeling where I wanted to go, but I figured if I went, that was the end of my career with the Mets. So I didn't go.
"The situation I was in, I needed to prove myself. I wasn't totally there, but you can't bow out of a game. You have to go in the game and perform."
O'Day and fellow right-hander Rocky Cherry had spent spring training with the Mets, trying to stick after becoming selections in the December 2008 Rule 5 draft. Cherry did not make it out of spring training before being offered back to the Baltimore Orioles, his former club. O'Day, a strike-thrower on a Mets staff that had tended to throw far too many balls, made the roster.
At least out of spring training.
O'Day made only three more relief appearances with the Mets after the emotional Reds game.
Mike Pelfrey was experiencing forearm tendinitis in mid-April, and Manuel elected to have the young right-hander skip a start in Milwaukee over Pelfrey's objection. Because Pelfrey was not placed on the disabled list and roster room needed to be created for the promotion of Nelson Figueroa for a spot start, the Mets placed O'Day on waivers, beginning the Rule 5 process of offering the sidearm-throwing reliever back to the Angels.
In limbo until the waiver process was resolved, O'Day spent a couple of days in Panama City Beach, Fla., with his girlfriend Elizabeth Prann, who was working on-air there for a local television station. (Prann is now an Atlanta-based Fox News Channel correspondent who covers the Southeast, including the recent BP oil spill. They will marry in November.)
O'Day never returned to the Angels. Texas claimed him off waivers and assumed the same Rule 5 provisions the Mets were under -- that O'Day had to remain on the major league roster the remainder of the '09 season to become Rangers property. Otherwise, he would need to be placed on waivers again and be offered back to the Angels for $25,000 if he cleared.
"They gave me a good opportunity," O'Day said about the Mets. "I wouldn't be where I am today if the Mets hadn't taken that chance on me and pulled me out of the Angels system."
As it turned out, Pelfrey had an 11-day layoff between starts. Had the Mets placed him on the 15-day disabled list, which would have sidelined him four more days, O'Day might still be Mets property.
"I appreciate their roster-management skills just because I found a home now, and I like where I'm at," O'Day said dryly, but without malice.
In Game 1 of the ALCS, O'Day threw only one pitch. He surrendered a two-run single to Alex Rodriguez in the Yankees' five-run eighth inning. O'Day rebounded the next day in Game 2. The sidearm thrower retired Marcus Thames on a groundout to end the eighth and stranded Nick Swisher at second base.
O'Day has produced a 1.99 ERA in 136 regular-season relief appearances during the past two seasons with Texas, although his debut with the organization went comically badly.
"I got the bad pitching out of the way the first night," said O'Day, who inherited two runners from new Rangers teammate C.J. Wilson in the bottom of the 11th inning on April 22, 2009, and allowed a game-ending RBI single to the lone batter he faced, Toronto's Kevin Millar.
There was far more intrigue to that appearance than a simple walk-off loss.
O'Day was ordering a sub for lunch in Florida and awaiting the waiver resolution when he learned from his agent he had been claimed by Texas. After scurrying to Toronto to join his new team, he ended up pitching in that night's game wearing the No. 30 jersey of Kason Gabbard, complete with "GABBARD" written on the back. Gabbard was with Triple-A Oklahoma City and was days from being sold to the Boston Red Sox for $30,000.
"They call and say, 'How quickly can you be at the airport?'" O'Day recalled. "I said, 'In an hour.' They gave me two hours to get there. I said goodbye to my girlfriend, jumped on a flight, connected in Memphis and headed up to Toronto.
"As soon as I landed, I talked to Texas' traveling secretary. The original idea was I was going to go straight to the hotel. He said, 'No, you better come to the field. Michael Young just hit a tying home run.' I get to the field and I'm stretching in my jeans, my plainclothes. I hadn't even been at the stadium for 45 minutes. I go to the bullpen, I meet the bullpen coach, and he says, 'You better start throwing. We're going to put you in.' So I warm up. I throw like 10 or 12 warm-up pitches, and I'm in the game.
"I guess the oddest part of the whole thing is meeting my manager and my catcher and the guys on the mound as I go into the game in the bottom of the 11th, tie game. That was an interesting day, for sure. And then to be wearing someone else's jersey just makes it even better.
"I think if we had won that game they could have filed a protest because I was wearing the wrong jersey."
Although he missed Adenhart's funeral, O'Day soon thereafter was able to pay his respects in person. After the series in Toronto, Texas' road trip continued at Camden Yards in Baltimore. O'Day drove an hour to the Greenlawn Memorial Park cemetery in Williamsport, Md., where Adenhart had been buried.
Three weeks ago, a jury found Andrew Thomas Gallo guilty of three felony counts of murder, for the deaths of Adenhart and two other occupants of the Eclipse in the hit-and-run incident. Gallo's blood alcohol level reportedly was 0.19 percent two hours after the collision, more than double the legal limit. He also had a previous conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol. He faces a maximum of 50 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 10.
O'Day still pays tribute to his late minor league teammate. Sunday at Yankee Stadium, he removed his baseball cap to show what was handwritten underneath the brim:
Darren O'Day has found inspiration in the loss of teammate Nick Adenhart.