By Ernie Palladino
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Maybe, just maybe, Bobby Parnell is turning into the closer the Mets need.
Before we get all excited and start putting his name in the same sentence with that old guy across town, let’s make it clear right now that Parnell is not now, nor probably ever will be Mariano Rivera. They’re two entirely different pitchers to begin with — Parnell straight heat and a curve, Rivera the famed and deadly cutter. And that’s to say nothing of a track record of consistency we may never, ever see again.
But here’s the deal. Though he has blown two of his five save opportunities this year, Parnell appears to have acquired at least the right attitude to go along with a fastball that occasionally pushes the gun readout to 100 MPH and a good curve. This is the same Parnell, remember, who blew half his save chances in 2010 and left serious doubts about whether he’d ever be able to handle a closer’s role mentally.
But after Terry Collins proclaimed the affable right-hander as his guy for the ninth in spring training, Parnell has taken at least mental ownership of the role. He’s not that meek fellow anymore, constantly worried about trusting his stuff. The ninth inning, he told the Daily News this week, is his.
“I see the ninth inning as mine,” he said. “It’s my job.”
Good attitude. And outlook is half the secret to closing. An effective ninth-inning guy goes out there to command, not pitch; to dominate, not maneuver. And he lets no one get in his way.
The good ones pitch a little angry, even if some of them like Rivera keep it all behind a stone façade.
Parnell has already gotten ticked off this year. Collins bypassed him in Tuesday’s wild-pitch loss to the Marlins after a 35-pitch, two-inning outing Monday night, and Parnell made his feelings known after the game. As uncomfortable as that may have been for Collins, it at least impressed the manager.
The good ones do that. Going back, Goose Gossage took nothing from no one, including Billy Martin, George Steinbrenner and, for our purposes today, his All-Star third baseman Graig Nettles. Goose had gotten himself into a bases-loaded jam and Nettles in his infinite wisdom decided a settling meeting at the mound was in order. As Nettles arrived, Gossage turned to him and said — this is edited — “What the heck do you want?”
Knowing he had judged wrong, Nettles looked down and said sheepishly, “Throw strikes,” a reasonable suggestion to which Gossage railed, “Get the heck off my mound! Get back to your position and shut the heck up!”
Gossage got out of the inning and went to the Hall of Fame. Nettles never tried to give him another pep talk.
John Franco expected to be out there for every save opportunity possible. And we know nobody messes with Rivera. Joe Girardi even went to him Saturday afternoon in a non-save situation when Shawn Kelley gave up a ninth-inning single, just for good measure.
Parnell doesn’t have to turn into a madman like Gossage to do his job well. Nor does he have to be a Rivera-like Iceman. He simply needs to maintain his new-found confidence and display at every turn his willingness to not only accept, but excel in his role.
He’s off to a good start. He has allowed two earned runs in 13 innings for a 1.38 ERA. He’s struck out 11 and walked just two. Though his last save came May 1 against Miami, he did pick up his second win Friday in Atlanta to go 2-0.
Games like Sunday’s 9-4 loss to the Braves won’t help him grow that save column any. In fact, the Mets’ main challenge this year will be to hit consistently enough to get themselves in a save opportunity. Parnell may not see a whole lot of them this year, and he’ll probably blow a few along the way.
But as long as the bulldog attitude continues, the Mets may have found themselves a closer.
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