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Best Games I Know: Neil Allen

I couldn't just let a Neil Allen reference (see previous post) hang out there without doing some further research.

Those familiar with this blog may recollect my references to Allen as a favorite, prior to being traded to the Cardinals for Keith Hernandez on June 15, 1983. Given that we're not long removed from the anniversary of the trade, that I just penned a post about my father's favorite player, and that the previous blog entry references Allen, I couldn't help but dig in a little further.

* His First Mets Win (May 20, 1979)

A story better told here: but we can summarize this game more briefly, by noting it's one of the great extra-inning comebacks in Mets history. It was no fault of Neil Allen's that the Mets were three runs down in the home 10th, but he benefited most from Richie Hebner's game-tying home run. Allen pitched a scoreless 11th, emerging triumphant when Frank Taveras singled home Joel Youngblood in the home half.

True Neil Allen fans know...Allen began his Mets career as a starter, but was moved to relief after going 0-4 with a 7.52 ERA in his first five appearances.

* His Toughest Save (August 4, 1979)

This was the kind of save that is foreign to relievers these days. Against the first-place Expos, Allen protected a one-run lead by recording 10 outs. Funny thing about this one. The first batter Allen faced in the sixth was Gary Carter, whom he retired without issue, in the first meeting in their careers. Carter doubled against Allen with two outs in the ninth, but the Mets fireman got Ellis Valentine to fly out to end the game.

"This kid has been just great," manager Joe Torre said.

True Neil Allen Fans Know...Gary Carter had only one hit in his first seven career at-bats against Neil Allen.

* Clean Sweep (June 28, 1980)

One of the better moments of the hot streak that briefly propelled the Mets into contention during the early part of the summer of 1980 was a doubleheader sweep of the Phillies on the road. Yes the Phillies were shorthanded, without both shortstop Larry Bowa and third baseman Mike Schmidt, but the wins were impressive nonetheless.

Allen's role was to win the opener, by pitching a scoreless 10th and 11th, in-between which John Stearns doubled in the winning run, and save the nightcap after a rain delay with a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth, after the Mets had rallied from 4-2 down to lead on Steve Henderson's RBI hit. It was part of a streak of eight Allen appearances in which he allowed no runs in 15 2/3 innings.

"We've learned that we can play with the big teams," bullpen mate Tom Hausman told reporters.

True Neil Allen fans know...Mike Schmidt hit 3 home runs against Neil Allen, tied with Garry Maddox and Dave Kingman for the most by anyone against Allen.

* His Best Stretch as a Met (August 11-27, 1981)

In the bogusness that was the split season of 1981, the Mets run at a second-half title was keyed by Allen's performance over a little more than two weeks in mid-August. In that span, Allen pitched eight games. He won two and saved six, didn't allow a run, and held opponents to a .128 batting average (6 singles in 14 innings). Within that, he was named NL Player of the Week.

Included in that hot streak was a pair of games against the Reds in which Allen pitched five innings in two days. He earned a two-inning save in Cincinnati on August 22, then came back the next day and pitched three scoreless innings, as the Mets rallied from a late deficit against Tom Seaver to win 3-2 in 10 innings. Allen had just enough left on his final pitch to keep Reds slugger (and future Met) George Foster in the ballpark, though the real save in that game came from Bob Bailor, who made a game-ending leaping catch at the left field wall.

True Neil Allen Fans Know...Neil Allen's 51 combined wins for the Mets/Cardinals/Yankees are the most for anyone who pitched for all three of those teams.

* His Last Mets Win (May 20, 1983)

Neil Allen's last Mets win was the best-pitched game he ever had for the team, a 4-0 six-hit shutout of the 25-10, eventual NL West champion Dodgers. The newspaper stories note that it was a triumph in more ways than one, for Allen had recently admitted to battling some off-field issues.

Allen's strength in this game was battling through on-field struggles. The Dodgers went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Catcher Ronn Reynolds helped Allen through, with three hits and a pair of runs scored.

"I'm sad for us, but I'm glad for him," Dodgers outfielder Dusty Baker said afterwards.

Allen's win came four years to the day of his first Mets win.

True Neil Allen Fans Know...Neil Allen finished his career with six wins against the Dodgers, tied for his second-most against any team.

Neil Allen
Most Wins By Opponent
8- Pirates
6- Dodgers
6- Cubs

* One Dose of Satisfaction (July 23-24, 1984)

On June 21, in his first appearance with the Cardinals after being traded for Keith Hernandez, Allen pitched eight shutout innings in a 6-0 Cardinals win over the Mets. On June 30, he beat them again, allowing one run in seven innings. "I've never enjoyed batting against him," Hernandez said, admitting to the media that the trade weighed heavily on his mind.

The last hurrah of the Mets first-place stand in 1984 was a seven-game win streak in mid-July. Within that was a three-game sweep of the Cardinals at home. Within that were back-to-back walk-off wins against Allen. Hernandez would play the biggest part in the second one.

Whitey Herzog pushed his luck with Allen a few batters too far in the Cardinals-Mets matchup of July 23. Allen threw three scoreless innings of relief, but failed in his fourth. Wally Backman singled home Mike Fitzgerald with the winning run in the 12th.

Allen was brought in again the next day as the fifth and final Cardinals reliever because Whitey Herzog was trying to extend the game beyond the 10th inning. Hernandez prevented that, beating his former team and his tradesake with a single to center, capping a 9-8 Mets win.

"I've tried too hard against him before," Hernandez said. (thank you, New York Times) "...But this is the first time I've faced him that I've been relaxed. Before, with him pitching, I'd be thinking of the trade. But this time, I wiped it right out of my mind. Before, no question it interfered with my concentration."

True Neil Allen Fans Know...That thanks to Joe Durso's notes in his game story, that this gave the Mets eight straight extra-inning wins.

* And Another (April 9/11, 1985)

One of the most famous regular season home runs in Mets history is Gary Carter's walk-off home run against Neil Allen on Opening Day 1985. Most Mets fans remember that well, so we'll focus here on summarizing what happened the next time Allen pitched against the Mets.

Game 2 in 1985 was a foreshadowing of a matchup later that season, with John Tudor and Ron Darling both pitching brilliantly. Darling allowed one run in seven innings, Tudor, one in nine. The only reason the Mets managed a run was because it was produced by a pair of fourth-inning errors from third baseman Terry Pendleton.

This one was decided in that 11th, and again the Allen-Carter matchup came into play. Carter singled Keith Hernandez to third, forcing a situation in which Allen walked George Foster intentionally to load the bases with nobody out. The ending was anticlimactic. The Mets walked off with the win when Allen walked Danny Heep to end the game.

True Neil Allen Fans Know...Neil Allen allowed 22 walk-off hits in his career, but only one walk-off walk.

* Start Spreading the News (July 20, 1986)

We'll make an exception to our normal "Best Games" rules here and close by including a game from this date since it involves Neil Allen beating the Yankees. He didn't just beat them. Allen, then with the White Sox, shut the Yankees out on two hits, 8-0. It was a unique shutout in that Allen didn't strike out a batter and didn't walk any either.

While the Mets were running into trouble in Houston, both on the field and at a local bar where three players were arrested, Allen was arresting the Yankees in the Bronx. He had a perfect game going until Dave Winfield broke it with two outs in the fifth. The win was Allen's seventh in eight decisions and his second straight shutout.

"I'm afraid someone is going to wake me up and tell me I'm dreaming," he told the press after the game.

True Neil Allen Fans Know... The leftfielder for the White Sox that day? Bobby Bonilla, who went 2-for-4 with an RBI and was traded to the Pirates three days later.


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