But after Carlos Torres proved ineffective at shutting down the Blue Jays in Tuesday's 3-2 win, the bullpen gate swung open, and there was Parnell. Twenty-three months removed from his last big league save, 21 months from a major neck operation and 14 months from Tommy John surgery, Parnell, in Collins' words, could not have been "in a bigger situation than what he was in tonight."
"Sometimes to swim," Parnell shrugged, "you've got to jump in the deep end."
And so it was that Parnell nailed down five outs for his first save since July 30, 2013. With the bases loaded in the eighth, he allowed two inherited runners to score on a sacrifice fly from Jose Bautista and a single by Edwin Encarnacion. He then all but abandoned his low-90s fastball in favor of a knuckle-curve, striking out Chris Colabello on five of them consecutively to end the eighth.
"His curveball is a great curveball," catcher Travis d'Arnaud said. "So we just capitalized on that situation and we used it over and over and over again."
When Parnell returned to the dugout between innings, Collins told him he was going to pitch the ninth. And Parnell embraced the chance, retiring the Jays in order.
"It's very important," Collins said. "It's good to know we've got another weapon down there."
When Parnell reported to Spring Training in February, 12 months after his Tommy John surgery, the initial plan was to ease him into closing duties. But multiple setbacks and poor velocity in the Minors delayed his timetable; in the interim, Jeurys Familia took over the ninth and rapidly developed into one of the game's best closers.
That left Parnell without a defined role when he returned to the Mets last week. It also left him questioning -- despite his status, at age 30 and one of the longest-tenured Mets -- his identity in the bullpen.
"In the back of my head, I always felt like it was yesterday I pitched last," Parnell said. "That's probably why rehab was so frustrating, because I always felt like I should be pitching like I did yesterday, which for me was the last time I pitched in the big leagues. It made for a long process."
Symbolically, at least, that process ended on Tuesday. Familia is still the closer, and will remain so for as long as he's effective. But it was Familia who was among the first to greet Parnell after his save -- who, in Collins' words, "followed him around like a puppy for a year and a half," learning and improving. And it was Collins who seemed to bask in Parnell's success almost as much as Parnell did.
Even if Parnell won't be closing, the Mets are glad to have their closer back.
"It shows that they still have faith in me," Parnell said. "Nothing's changed over the last year and a half, two years. And that means a lot."