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Parnell comes of age with save against Yankees

NEW YORK -- The game's terminology evolves and devolves. So they no longer are identified as firemen. For more than a few years now, those who are the last men pitching have gone by the term closer. Rollie and Goose were firemen. Eck was both. Mo has been and is a closer.

The last Met pitching these days is Bobby Parnell, and he has a place in his heart for firemen and a place on the door of his locker for five fire department patches, one from Salisbury, N.C., his birthplace and residence. But he is pitching these days as a closer, the closer for the Mets.

Neither need nor room for debate exists in this ninth-inning equation.

Today Parnell is more of a closer than he was when the Subway Series began on Monday night, more of a closer because of what he did and how he did it. The intracity, interborough series is a litmus test only for those with an NY -- or an NY -- on their cap.

Parnell passed that test on Monday night. He did more than save the Mets' 2-1 victory over the Yankees, more than put his team in position to win the first two games of the novel four-game, home-and-home Interleague engagement, what with Matt Harvey pitching on Tuesday night in the Big Citi.

Bobby Parnell came of age.

And that piece of evolution had nothing to do with his birth certificate. Parnell was 28 when he arrived for work on Monday and when he left for home shortly after 11 p.m. ET. Not any older, but wiser, more confident, more certain that the closer assignment is his, and definitely more pleased with himself.

Manager Terry Collins, the man who assigned Parnell the ninth inning in March and summoned him for the ninth on Monday, called it a "big, big, big game for Bobby," emphasis on the third big. And he endorsed the phrase "came of age."

Parnell wasn't so sure of those words. As each quality closer will say, the idea is that his reaction to victories, losses, saves and save opportiunities not converted must be moderate. "Never too high, never too low," remains what most say. It's what Parnell said when he was ducking the "coming of age" description thrown at him in the afterglow of the Mets' second victory over a first-place team in as many nights.

"I want to say, 'Yes,'" Parnell said. "I want to say, 'No.'"

If he acknowledged that he had come of age, he might also have conceded that something was missing before his four-up-three-down ninth against the other guys in town. Well, something was missing.

Parnell had faced the Yankees on six other occasions -- four of them last season -- and pitched 3 1/3 innings against them, even finished two games. He could not convert a save opportunity on June 10, 2012, but he wasn't the closer then. That happened in the eighth inning. Stress existed, certainly, but not to the level that existed on Monday night. Once Daniel Murphy's single off David Robertson produced the Mets' second run, the assignment was different from any other Parnell had experienced.

Parnell had seven saves this season before he was summoned on Monday and 14 before this year. None of the 21 had come with comparable consequence, though. He had pitched in tight games and against quality teams. Indeed, he earned his seventh save on Sunday night against the Braves with a clean ninth. That was a game of some consequence.

But Parnell was facing the Yankees on Monday. And though his batters were David Adams (swinging strikeout), Ichiro Suzuki (four-pitch walk), Lyle Overbay (swinging strikeout) and Travis Hafner (popup to third), not Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and A-Rod, it was the Yankees. And they arrived at Citi Field 11 games over .500 for a reason.

Parnell's "keep it moderate" reaction was to characterize his save as a "small personal victory for me." But he did allow that he "enjoyed this one a little more."

OK, so it wasn't a "coming of age" in his words, though he did acknowledge "It was a good game to win," that career save No. 22 "puffed me up" and that closing a game in the Subway Series "was kind of a dream come true -- one of those milestones."

Collins was delighted by the victory, by the seven innings of one-run ball contributed by starter Jon Niese, the home run by David Wright, Murphy's decisive hit and the overall tone of his team's performance. And by Parnell's matriculation.

"Bobby's come a long way," Collins said. "He's a different guy. His view of the game is different. He's learned to slow down his heart. That's allowed him to hold runners better and be in control of himself."

Then Collins put in the words the evolution of the man he has put in charge of happy endings.

"Last year I wasn't sure he wanted to pitch the ninth inning," Collins said, a tactful way of saying he was unsure of Parnell's spine. "Then he told me, 'I'll pitch whenever, wherever you want me to pitch.' Then it became, 'I want the ninth.'"

Those were the words Collins wanted to hear. What Parnell did on Monday night was what his manager wanted -- no, needed -- to see: an overpowering performance in a tight game of consequence.

"If you're going to pitch in this city," Collins said, "you're going to be pitching in big situations. This isn't the playoffs, but this is the Subway Series. And it is different."

It's more challenging and stressful than most regular-season games played before Labor Day. And when things evolve favorably, it's more rewarding.

"It puffs you up," the closer for the Mets said. "No question."

Marty Noble is a reporter for

New York Mets, Bobby Parnell