Transformation evident for first-place Mets

Recognizing change from previous summers, Parnell says preparing for more is 'uplifting'

Transformation evident for first-place Mets

NEW YORK -- As one of the longest-tenured Mets, Bobby Parnell was here for all of the lean years. He admits, looking back, that it was frequently "a grind." So Parnell was one of the first to notice something different during his lonely rehab hours early this year in Port St. Lucie, Fla., when teammates began texting to marvel at the changing atmosphere.

Four months later, Parnell sat in the Citi Field clubhouse after the Mets completed their fourth straight win over the Rockies, 12-3, to move 4 1/2 games ahead of the Nationals in the National League East. He marveled at the difference.

"This is the first time that we've been in the driver's seat this late in the year," Parnell said. "We still have that sense of, 'We're going to win every ballgame.' There's no panic in the clubhouse. There's no worry going on. It's just going out there and handling business."

Thursday's win was a showcase of how much more business the Mets are now equipped to handle. After falling behind two runs in the top of the first inning, Noah Syndergaard grew stout. Between trips to the mound, the rookie pitcher watched as Kelly Johnson, Curtis Granderson and others bludgeoned Colorado's pitching staff, rapping out a dozen runs to put the game all but out of reach by the sixth.

In the postgame clubhouse, the Mets then discussed their transformation from a team hoping to make the playoffs to one that fully expects to.

"Winning's fun," Johnson said. "There's nothing like it -- going to the postseason, playing meaningful baseball in the last couple months or six weeks of the season is exciting. And I think we've put ourselves in a position to really play some fun games down the stretch."

Like most people, Parnell pointed to the arrivals of Johnson and Juan Uribe, and later of Tyler Clippard, Yoenis Cespedes and Eric O'Flaherty, as the true genesis of New York's transformation. Since the Mets made the first of four trades to acquire those players, they have nearly doubled their daily offensive output. That in turn has taken pressure off pitchers such as Syndergaard, who have remained characteristically stingy. Johnson described the Rockies' task of facing Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard in consecutive games as going "through the gauntlet."

But truer tests are yet to come; the Mets don't know quite where they will go from here, only that they have a chance to do something special. One of several clubhouse imports with playoff experience, outfielder Michael Cuddyer, cautioned that "we still have 40-something games left to play," and "by no means is this over." But as Parnell noted, it's suddenly "fun to think about tomorrow."

"I'm not saying it wasn't fun back then, but it was a grind," he said. "And now it's uplifting."

Three games await this weekend against the NL Wild Card-leading Pirates, before the Mets' schedule grows much easier -- at least on paper, with last-place teams galore -- down the stretch. Throughout, the Mets plan to heed Cuddyer's advice. Manager Terry Collins went as far as to call everyone together during Monday's pre-series scouting meeting, imploring his players not to become complacent.

"It's easy," Collins said, quipping that if the Mets win every game for the rest of the season, they won't need to worry about the Nationals or anyone else.

Collins stopped joking at that point and added: "That's how we have to approach it."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.