SEATTLE – Paul Molitor had never met Neil Allen until the Twins manager interviewed him for the job as pitching coach. A year and a half later, Molitor considers Allen one of his closest friends.
That's what made Thursday's news, that Allen had been arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated, particularly difficult. And this weekend's series with the Mariners, the first played without Allen alongside him in the dugout, unusually poignant.
"It was a hard day. It was emotional," Molitor said of the aftermath of the call he received from General Manager Terry Ryan, informing him of the arrest. "I think everybody kind of walked around with that pit-of-the-stomach feeling after the news broke."
And there was one other emotion, too: shock. And amid all the expressions of sadness, the declarations of support, there was unanimity among at least a dozen players and coaches interviewed Friday, none of whom had any idea that Allen, an admitted alcoholic, had lapsed.
"I never saw him take a drink," said Eddie Guardado, who in his job as bullpen coach worked closer with Allen than anyone. "His vice was Diet Coke."
Yet Allen is absent now, suspended indefinitely while the Twins investigate and decide what steps to take with their pitching coach. Assistant general manager Rob Antony declined to comment on Allen.
It's a notable absence, said pitcher Ervin Santana.
"It's very sad. I feel very, very bad for what happened. You can tell everybody in here feels the same way, because we're very close," Santana said. "It was so surprising, because he's been sober for a long time. He's proud of that."
Allen said last year that he had not had a drink of alcohol since 1994.
"It's something he's been dealing with all his life. And it got him. The demons finally got him," said Guardado, who has spoken to Allen twice since the arrest. "He's sad, but he sounds determined. He's going to get back. He's got a lot of support from everybody here. He's going to be fine."
Support for "Leo," the nicknamed pinned on Allen by Eduardo Escobar, wasn't hard to find Friday.
"We all like him. He's helpful. He's a laid-back guy, an easy coach to talk to," said reliever Michael Tonkin. "He's someone you can really trust."
Most of the Twins heard the news as they headed to the airport Thursday for their flight to Seattle. Molitor received the news earlier from Ryan and has spoken to Allen at least four times since.
"He's doing OK. I think it probably shocked him as much as anybody," Molitor said. "We're just going to try to deal with the facts and the reality of what transpired and do what we need to to address whatever sent him in that direction."
Molitor said he doesn't know how the team will handle the incident, or when Allen will return — Eric Rasmussen, the organization's minor-league pitching coordinator was in uniform in Allen's place Friday — but "I hope we get him back soon, because I'm going to miss having him around. He's one of the people I look forward to seeing at work every day."
That relationship started the first day Allen reported to work.
"As I've gotten to know him, the more respect I have for him. He's very good at his job, and he's a good person. He's got a heart of gold," Molitor said. "My thoughts are about what we can do for him here in the short term to support him. … It's a brotherhood in here, and we're hurting for our friend."