Pro Baseball: Parnell throwing heat for Mets
By Ronnie Gallagher
FLUSHING, N .Y. — Nick Swisher stepped into the batter’s box and looked out toward the mound at his New York Mets’ foe — Bobby Parnell.
In front of a record Citi Field crowd of 42,020 on Friday night in the opener of the Subway Series, Parnell, the pride of Rockwell, whizzed three straight strikes past the Yankees’ leadoff man, the last missle reaching 100 mph.
“That freakin’ guy can sling it!” yelled one fan in a Mets jersey, looking over to his neighbor wearing a Yankees cap.
Fans in New York — regardless of which team they root for — have discovered one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the majors plays on the corner of Roosevelt and 126th Street. For Parnell, a Mets veteran of four years, throwing heat has become his niche.
If the guy with the thick Brooklyn accent thought Parnell’s strikeout of Swisher was impressive, he should’ve been in Detroit a few nights earlier during the Mets’ 16-9 win. Parnell, an East Rowan grad, fired seven straight pitches over 100 mph, reaching 103 against Miguel Cabrera.
“103 on the freakin’ gun … Wow!” exclaimed Mets reliever Tim Byrdak, whose locker is beside Parnells. “You sit there watching him — especially being a pitcher, too — and seeing him on a consistent basis is fun.”
Parnell gives one of those “aw shucks” smiles about that performance in Detroit. He said his slider wasn’t working so he had to rely on the fastball.
“I was going against the heart of their lineup,” Parnell said. “I just had to find something that worked and that was all I had. So I just let it go.”
When the Subway Series began, Parnell and the Mets were rolling. On April 20, they were a disgusting 5-13. Terry Collins’ club then went 37-28. Justin Verlander stopped a four-game winning streak but they had finally climbed over .500.
Suddenly, baseball at Citi Field was fun again. Fans were clamoring about the “other team” in New York and the word “playoffs” was being bantered about.
“You get that streak where you win a couple games in a row or a couple of series in a row and you ride it,” Parnell said while standing in front of his locker an hour before Friday night’s opener. “We’re having fun and playing baseball and that takes the pressure off of us. Terry’s a good leader and he put that into us. It makes the game easier.”
Parnell went on the disabled list April 21 with a blood clot in the middle finger of his right hand.
“The finger would go numb when I pitched,” Parnell said. “I didn’t have the feel for the baseball. It’s cold up here (early in the season). It’s about 40 degrees every night.”
Blood thinners and time helped him get back by May 30.
“I feel healthy now,” he said. “I’m ready to go.”
Like his teammates, Parnell has picked up his game. In his last 152/3 innings, he has allowed just two earned runs (1.20 ERA). He won his first game since 2009 on June 15 when he struck out five and threw two scoreless innings against the Braves. He pitched a scoreless 13th against Oakland on June 22 to pick up another win. He pitches frequently. He has thrown in six of the Mets’ last 10 games.
“When Bobby’s on, he’s as good as anybody,” said Ken Oberkfell, the Mets’ bench coach and Collins’ right-hand man. “He has a tremendous arm. He gets it up there quickly. The key for him is to get his offspeed pitches over. When he’s locating, he’s almost unhittable.”
Asked his role, Parnell said, “Just be ready to go every day. Sixth, seventh, eighth inning, two innings at a time, whatever it calls for on that day.”
Getting a chance to throw in the Subway Series was a thrill, even if the Mets lost two of three, falling to 19-22 at Citi Field.
“It’s different to be a part of the Subway Series,” Parnell smiled. “To experience it first-hand is eye-opening.”
Know what else is eye-opening to a country boy from North Carolina? The prices. Parnell lives in Long Island City, just over the East River from Manhattan.
“It’s a one-bedroom apartment that runs about three times what your mortgage is back home,” he said, rolling his eyes. “I have it for 31/2 months out of the year. I definitely overpaid but it’s a nice little place.”
When Parnell first arrived in New York as a Class A Brooklyn Cyclone, the area was a bit overwhelming. Now, he has learned to appreciate what New York is about.
“I enjoy being up here,” he said. “I go downtown and walk around Times Square, do all the sightseeing stuff and seeing the different cultures. It’s definitely different from back home.”
The Yankees have put the Mets under .500 again but Parnell just looks for the next day and his next outing.
“I definitely get nervous,” he said of taking the mound as a major-league pitcher. “If you don’t get nervous, you don’t need to be out there.”
Nervous is what opposing batters are when they see the lanky, 6-foot-3 reliever take the hill and start hurling that famous fastball at them.
Like Swisher on Friday night, most are probably thinking the same thing.
That guy can freakin’ sling it.