It was an ordinary late-night cab ride, the kind ballplayers take all the time. Only this one turned out anything but ordinary for Duaner Sanchez.
The cab got involved in a bumper car accident caused by a drunk driver, and Sanchez, acting on instinct, braced himself against the impact with his arm.
His right arm.
And right then, a lot of things changed for the relief pitcher and the New York Mets.
``I don't remember the accident,'' Sanchez said. ``It's probably better that way.''
The Mets do. It occurred on July 30, 2006, one day before the trading deadline. Sanchez was enjoying a banner season out of the Mets bullpen and was emerging as one of the National League's best relievers. Peering through prescription goggle glasses, he pieced together a string of 21 scoreless innings at the start of the season and he was unscored upon in 39 of 49 appearances.
And then, the accident.
Sanchez was diagnosed with a separated shoulder and surgery was performed the next day. He was done for the season and, as it turned out, the next one as well.
His comeback last year hit the ultimate speed bump. During Spring Training, he suffered a hairline fracture to a small bone in the front of his shoulder. Doctors believe the injury was unrelated to the taxicab incident, although the accident likely weakened parts of the shoulder, and the bone cracked when he started throwing again. This time, doctors inserted a screw in the bone to repair a hairline fracture.
And then the rehabilitation of Duaner Sanchez began.
``It was hard -- the hardest thing I've ever done,'' Sanchez said. ``Anybody who goes through rehab will tell you that. First, you have to deal with the mental part. Then you have to deal with the physical part.''
Every day, Sanchez would report to the Mets training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., at 8 a.m. to work out. He'd be there until 2 or 3 in the afternoon.
``Every day was the same,'' he said. ``Running, then limited throwing. I was not supposed to do too much. There were no other players. It was the same regimen, every day.
``You have to find things that make you excited to work out. You either do it or you don't. It's as simple as that.''
Sanchez shrugged off the boredom and followed the rehab program religiously. He knew his career depended on it.
``There was never a time when I thought I wouldn't make it back,'' he said.
Sanchez came to training camp in February as something of a question mark following the two surgeries and being out of action for 18 months, a baseball lifetime for some players. The first test was an intrasquad game on one of the back fields at the training complex. He threw 26 pitches in an unremarkable inning.
It was, however, plenty remarkable for him.
``I wasn't nervous,'' he said. ``I just wanted to go out there and pitch again. It's a long time, a year and a half.''
That inning and his work later in camp convinced the Mets front office that Sanchez could again be a productive member of their bullpen. He opened the season on the disabled list but on April 15, the day he was activated, he threw a scoreless inning against the Washington Nationals.
``I felt like it was my Major League debut all over again,'' he said after the game.
In his first seven outings, he threw 6 2/3 scoreless innings. There was a milestone win on May 28, when Sanchez threw two scoreless innings against the Marlins. It was his first win since July 4, 2006. Three days later, he threw a 1-2-3 inning to get another win, this time against Los Angeles.
He's had a couple of bad outings, too, like any relief pitcher, but Sanchez's shoulder is healthy and he's again pitching important innings for the Mets.
The long, lonely trip back is complete for the pitcher who stays out of cabs these days.
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.