MLB: Mets’ Parnell bringing heat out of bullpen
By Bret Strelow
New York Mets reliever Bobby Parnell took batting practice at Fenway Park last Saturday, but repeated attempts to belt a home run over the 37-foot Green Monster were unsuccessful.
He reached new heights as a pitcher the previous day.
Parnell, an East Rowan High School graduate, hit 100 mph on the Fenway radar gun in the eighth inning of the Mets’ 5-3 victory against the Boston Red Sox on May 22.
“I was a little amped up with the atmosphere,” Parnell said. “I came into the dugout, and a couple of guys asked how it felt. I said, ‘What?’ Then they told me I hit 100.
“That’s a great place to do it ó it’s a good memory to do it in Fenway in a big series like that.”
The fastest pitch of the 24-year-old Parnell’s career was officially clocked at 100.3 mph, a speed that’s tied for first place in the majors this season. Juan Morillo, who has since been demoted by Minnesota, and Detroit’s Joel Zumaya have also thrown 100.3.
Parnell fired only fastballs during his scoreless appearance in the Mets’ series-opening win against Boston. Johan Santana pitched seven innings in front of a raucous Fenway crowd, and Francisco Rodriguez earned the save.
Parnell, following a Cy Young winner and setting up for MLB’s single-season saves leader, made his own mark in the historic park. Jason Bay grounded out against Parnell, and his triple-digit heater came on a 2-2 offering to left-handed hitting J.D. Drew.
The pitch was barely outside for a ball, but Drew struck out swinging when Parnell threw a 98 mph fastball with a full count. Mike Lowell flied out to end the eighth.
“That probably has to be one of my favorite places to pitch,” Parnell said. “The fans are into it, every seat is packed, they’re chanting back and forth ó there were almost as many Mets fans. It’s a fun place to play.”
Mets pitchers had an opportunity to take swings in Fenway prior to Game 2 of the series, and Parnell tried to channel the corner infielder who hit more than his fair share of flyballs ó but only one homer ó as an East Rowan varsity player.
He aimed for the left-field landmark that sits only 310 feet from home plate.
“I had to go wear out the Green Monster a little bit,” Parnell said with a laugh. “I didn’t swing that well. I had a good line-drive swing, but I couldn’t lift the ball.
“If I had the same swing in high school I could have been a better hitter. There I couldn’t keep the ball out of the air, and now I’m trying to hit homers over a 310 fence. I couldn’t hit one in the air to save my life.”
Parnell said he hadn’t swung a bat since spring training, when he developed into a reliable relief option for the Mets.
After retiring Florida’s Dan Uggla with two on and two away in the eighth inning of a tie game Friday night, Parnell has a 2-0 record and 2.18 ERA in 24 appearances.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen have often used Parnell as a bridge to the oft-injured J.J. Putz and Rodriguez.
“Being the first time in new territory, I established myself in the seventh inning kind of quick and got Jerry and Dan confident,” Parnell said. “Having J.J. and Frankie after me, it skyrocketed my confidence to go after guys with my best stuff.
“My fastball command has been the cornerstone to help me get ahead and get hitters out.”
Parnell has allowed 23 hits ó but no home runs ó and struck out 18 batters in 202/3 innings. Three of the nine walks he’s issued came in a difficult outing Monday against Washington, and he bounced back with a scoreless appearance two days later. Relying more on his slider, he fanned Cristian Guzman and Ryan Zimmerman.
Earlier this month, Parnell picked up his first career victory at home against Pittsburgh. He took the mound in a tie game on May 8 and struck out two Pirates during a perfect top half of the eighth inning. The Mets scored five times in the bottom of the eighth and won 7-3 at Citi Field.
“Coming in and having the guys score some runs, the bats came alive,” Parnell said. “It was an amazing feeling watching it unfold. I was definitely on the edge of my seat.”
Parnell obtained two game-used baseballs, which were later marked by an MLB authenticator, and shipped them home to his family in Salisbury.
He collected his second win six days after the first.
Playing in San Francisco, Parnell entered in the eighth inning with the Mets leading 4-2. He gave up two runs, but New York scored three times in the top of the ninth.
Starting pitcher John Maine had allowed only two runs in 62/3 innings.
“You have ups and downs, get wins you don’t deserve, get wins taken away you do deserve ó that’s the game of baseball,” Parnell said. “To get a win like that, I didn’t want it. Maine deserved it. It’s bittersweet. In the long run you get a win under your belt, but those are not the wins you want.”
Maine was one of the first Mets to approach Parnell as he walked into the dugout following his attention-grabbing performance at Fenway. Maine even asked Joe Scarola, the team’s manager of video operations, to burn a clip of Parnell’s 100 mph pitch onto a DVD.
Parnell stayed in a hotel close to now-demolished Shea Stadium last year during his stint as a September call-up, and he currently resides in an apartment on the western edge of Queens in Long Island City. The skyline of Manhattan is visible just across the East River.
A small-town product who enjoys hunting when he returns home each offseason, Parnell has made a name for himself in the Big Apple.
“It’s definitely an adjustment coming to New York from North Carolina,” Parnell said. “It’s a different taste of life.”