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Neil's Deal

Continuing along with the Neil Allen-lovefest, there's a good story behind his first major-league victory.

It occurred on May 20, 1979, against the St. Louis Cardinals in a season so pathetic that the highlight video was called "Fireworks" (I'm told by fellow bloggers that this was the first year the Mets had Fireworks Night) and the team had to win its final six games to avoid a 100-loss season. It was not the type of game you'd expect them to win, but then you remember, these are the Mets.

The Mets only beat the Cardinals once in nine meetings at Shea that season, and for all intents, they should have gone 0-for-9. What started as a topsy turvy matchup pitting Mets ace Craig Swan against Bob Sykes (later traded for Willie McGee) turned into what appeared to be a Cardinals extra-inning win, after St. Louis scored three times in the top of the 10th to go ahead, 7-4. Allen stranded a pair of baserunners in relief of Dale Murray, who yielded all three runs.

The Cardinals needed only three outs to close the game out, but after striking out Steve Henderson, reliever Mark Littell allowed hits to Frank Taveras and Lee Mazzilli. Newspaper stories indicate that after Taveras got on base, Mets manager Joe Torre had a moment of walk-off clairvoyance, telling his coaches that his team would win.

The Cardinals turned to southpaw Darold Knowles to pitch to Richie Hebner, whose tenure as a Met is best noted for his strong desire not to be a Met. Hebner only hit two home runs off lefties all season, and had grounded out to Knowles in a big spot in a loss the day before, but this time he clubbed a pitch into the right field bullpen for a game-tying home run. Go figure.

Allen got through the 11th inning without an issue, getting Keith Hernandez and Ted Simmons out with a man on base. This, his third career relief appearance, was a nice confidence boost. It marked the first time in the eight games he had pitched in which he didn't give up a run. In the bottom of the 11th, the Mets got Allen his first triumph after five defeats.

A bloop double by Joel Youngblood and bunt single by Doug Flynn put runners on the corners, and after a force play, Knowles intentionally walked Steve Henderson to load the bases. Taveras whacked the next pitch into left-center field for a single, and the Mets had their unlikely, 8-7, win.

It was the first of three straight scoreless outings for Allen and marked the start of a turnaround that got him through the season with a respectable 6-10 mark and 3.55 ERA. By the end of the campaign, he had established himself as a potential closer of the future.

True Metsmen know...Darold Knowles is the only pitcher to pitch all seven games of a seven-game World Series, having done so for the Athletics against the Mets in 1973. He is also the only pitcher to end a regular-season (italicized for emphasis) game against the Mets with a walk-off error (that's another story for another time).

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