FORT MYERS, FLA. – Neil Allen had a decent run as the New York Mets closer from 1980 through 1982, saving 59 games. He was having a terrible season in 1983, with a record of 2-7 and a 4.50 ERA, when the announcement came an hour before the June 15 trading deadline:

Allen and fellow pitcher Rick Ownbey had been sent to St. Louis for first baseman Keith Hernandez. In 1979, Hernandez had been the National League's co-MVP with Willie Stargell. In 1982, he had been a heroic figure in the Cardinals' World Series championship.

Joe McDonald, the Cardinals general manager, offered this odd justification for the trade: "If Allen was not having a bad year, there's no way we could have gotten him.''

The baseball world was shocked and St. Louis fans were outraged by the Cardinals' modest return for Hernandez.

"I walked into the dugout around 7 p.m. right before the Cardinals' next game and went over to shake hands with [manager] Whitey Herzog,'' said Allen, the new Twins pitching coach. "He said, 'I've been wanting to get you for a long time, kid.'

"And then I looked out in the stands, all those people wearing red, and there are signs everywhere: 'We love 17,' Hernandez's number, and 'Allen must go' and nastier stuff than that.

"I said, 'I don't think the fans agree, Whitey,' and he said, 'Ah, don't worry about it, kid. By the way, we're putting you in the rotation, and your first start is next week against the Mets in Shea Stadium. Might as well jump right into it.' "

The Cardinals wanted Allen to throw a bullpen session that night to start stretching out for the start. Knowing the potential for boos, the Cardinals waited until the game was over and the fans were gone.

How did that start turn out? "Beat 'em,'' Allen said.

Sure did. June 21, 1983: Cardinals 6, Mets 0, eight scoreless innings for Allen, 0-for-4 for Hernandez.

patrick reusse