GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Part of Jeff Allison wanted to earn the win. Then again, just being back on the mound felt pretty good all by itself.
Allison, the Florida Marlins' top draft pick two years ago, pitched in the minors last night for the first time since his near-fatal drug overdose last summer. The 20-year-old righthander allowed three runs and seven hits in five innings for the Single A Greensboro Grasshoppers, getting a no-decision in a 7-6 win over the Delmarva Shorebirds.
After a shaky start, Allison showed flashes of the promise that made him a top pitching prospect before drug problems nearly destroyed his career and ended his life.
"Regardless of what happened or not tonight, the fact of the matter was I was playing again," said Allison, the 6-foot-2-inch, 195-pound righthander from Peabody (Mass.) High. "I wanted to do well -- don't get me wrong -- but it was great just to pitch."
It was Allison's first game since appearing in three games for the Marlins' Gulf Coast League rookie team two summers ago. His addiction to the powerful painkiller OxyContin, a reported failed drug test for marijuana, and a heroin overdose all led to him missing the 2004 season.
Allison's long road back made him the center of attention on this night. After warming up in the bullpen, he got a hug from catcher Luis Alen.
After Allison got Josh McCurdy to fly out to end the fifth, pitching coach Steve Foster greeted the prospect with a handshake.
He finished with three strikeouts and no walks, and was pulled after throwing 69 pitches -- 47 for strikes -- with many reaching the low 90s on the radar gun.
"I'm so impressed by him, a 20-year-old kid going through this," Greensboro manager Brandon Hyde said. "He was anxious to pitch."
Allison's problems began when he left spring training last year without permission. Shortly afterward, he said he had a "problem" with OxyContin and that he'd been fined $200,000 by the Marlins for failing a drug test for marijuana, prompting him to leave camp. Then, on July 17, he nearly died of a heroin overdose. "I was happy to be back out there," said Allison, Baseball America's High School Player of the Year as a senior. "It's just an unbelievable feeling right now. It's pretty emotional."