TAMPA — If you’re hardcore enough to remember the 2012 Yankees’ grueling AL Division Series victory over the Orioles, your top memory probably will be Raul Ibanez, pinch hitting for Alex Rodriguez, delivering a ninth-inning, game-tying, solo homer in Game 3.
Credit Darren O’Day with helping to create that memory. That’s the part that he cherishes.
“In the 2012 playoffs, Alex Rodriguez told the New York media he couldn’t see the ball when I was pitching to him,” O’Day, who struck out A-Rod in all three matchups that series, said Thursday. “I remember reading that and thinking, ‘Man, I’m doing something right. … That was pretty cool to hear.”
Nine seasons later, and 12 years after a four-game cameo with the Mets, the sidewinding right-hander finds himself a Yankee, courtesy of a one-year, $2.45 million deal, hoping to make some more memories with a team he has grown to know very well. Thursday, the Yankees’ inaugural pitchers and catchers workout, marked O’Day’s first day of work with his latest club.
“First time today putting the pinstripes on, it felt good,” he said. “I think it’s every little boy’s dream to play for the Yankees.”
At 38, O’Day became the oldest Yankee the moment he agreed to terms with them, and he looks forward to bestowing the knowledge he has accrued from 13 big league seasons on his new teammates, including the ones who have played alongside him before.
“Basically everything I know about the process and the routine of being a reliever, I learned from Darren,” said Yankees reliever Zack Britton, who played alongside O’Day in Baltimore from 2012 until 2018. “He really took me under his wing. I feel like his career, he’s been very underappreciated. This guy has been an elite reliever for a long time.”
“Obviously the different angle he creates is an obvious complement to our bullpen and something that’s obviously given him an advantage against right-handed hitters over the years,” manager Aaron Boone said. “But he’s also been a guy that’s held his own against lefties, too. He’s a guy, certainly a righty assassin, but in the middle setup innings [he] is going to have real value for us.”
O’Day, who developed his sidearm delivery while at the University of Florida (he didn’t make the team as a freshman walk-on, then did so as a sophomore after revamping his style), has limited righty hitters to a .193/.262/.287 slash line while lefties have gone .228/.299/.411. Last year with the Braves, as the “three-batter minimum” rule went into effect, O’Day faced 14 lefty batters, who had slash lines of .100/.357/.100 against him, with two walks and two hit batters creating the strong on-base percentage.
“I never thought I would have much success against lefties. I always thought I’d be a matchup guy,” O’Day said. “Along the way, I learned a four-seamer that allows me to pitch up in the zone to lefties and allows me to present a look that they’ve never seen before. So I’ve been able to manage myself against lefties most of my career. You might not put me in against three consecutive lefties, although I’ve done that before too. I don’t mind facing lefties. I have ways to get them out. And I’ve always enjoyed facing them.”
On Thursday, the Yankees’ pitchers threw bullpen sessions in a brick-and-mortar building nicknamed “The Gas Station” at their minor league complex. It’s equipped with all of the modern technology designed to track pitchers’ velocity, spin rate and every other detail.
O’Day, who throws his fastball in the mid-80s, joked: “They had to make an exception to let me into that place. I think I have to go through the bus stop or something.”
Nevertheless, he noted: “We can quantify just about everything — spin rates, break — but it’s tough to quantify deception. And I think that’s something that often gets overlooked.”