Bobby Parnell's failure headlines a bad day for Mets' bullpen
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All that stood between the Mets and an uplifting Opening Day victory was one more strike by their closer, but that's as close as they would come.
Bobby Parnell, making his first major-league appearance since neck surgery last September, walked off the mound to boos after he failed to protect a one-run lead in the ninth inning.
With Ian Desmond on first and two outs, the righthander walked Washington's Danny Espinosa after jumping ahead of him 1-and-2. One pitch later, he gave up an RBI double to Denard Span that tied the score.
Of all the frustrating moments in the 9-7, 10-inning loss to the Nationals on Monday, that two-pitch sequence by Parnell in the ninth ranked right at the top, given how close they were to the win.
"Opening Day, you want to come out here and be at your peak and perform well," Parnell said, "but that didn't happen today, so that's tough."
All throughout baseball, this is a day defined by optimism, and Citi Field was no exception. The packed house of Mets fans were on their feet throughout Espinosa's at-bat, cheering in anticipation with each pitch.
But there are few things in baseball more deflating than a closer's failure to secure a victory.
"The base on balls to Espinosa, I don't know where that pitch was, but that was the biggest at-bat," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He was the guy you wanted to get."
Parnell was not the only Mets reliever to struggle on this day. Consider that:
In the seventh, Carlos Torres and Scott Rice each walked the only hitter he faced on four pitches, tying the score at 4-4 and forcing Collins to go to Jose Valverde earlier than he hoped.
And in the 10th inning, Long Beach's John Lannan gave up a three-run home run to Anthony Rendon to extend Washington's lead to 9-5, significantly dampening any thought of a Mets comeback.
But Parnell's blown save casts the largest shadow because it's his job to turn leads into victories and also because of the uncertainty that surrounds him as he comes back from such a significant surgery.
Parnell had two discs fused together, similar to the surgery Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had in 2011.
Before the surgery, Parnell had always gotten by with his fastball, which has been known to reach the high 90s. On Monday, he averaged 93 mph on the 19 fastballs he threw, topping off at 95.5 mph. That difference can be just enough to allow a hitter to catch up.
Espinosa fouled off four pitches during his at-bat -- and they were fastballs that registered 92, 93 and two 94s.
"I've still got a little work to do," Parnell said, "but I think I'm comfortable where I'm at."