Detroit – It’s not often you notice a young player learning a valuable lesson, right at the moment it’s sinking in. But Kyle Gibson and Eduardo Escobar both had those baseball epiphanies Friday night.
Gibson stared down two-time MVP Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded, Escobar showed newfound patience in his own bags-jammed situation, and the pair of second-year regulars carried the Twins to their third consecutive win, a 2-0 victory over Detroit that inched Minnesota within three games of first place in the AL Central.
“The only way [they’re] going to get better in those big situations,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “is if I leave them out there.”
He did, and both demonstrated notable progress — particularly in Gibson’s case, given how poorly a nearly identical situation turned out last month. In his May 10 start at Comerica Park, a two-out error extended an inning and brought Cabrera to the plate with two runners on. The result: a three-run blast that ruined his day.
In the third inning Friday, another infield error, a misplayed grounder by Eduardo Nunez, gave the Tigers an extra out again. Up strode Cabrera, again with two runners on, again with a chance to ruin Gibson’s outing.
Seem familiar, Kyle?
“No, I try to forget about home runs as much as possible when you face that guy again,” Gibson said. “I knew that I just had to execute pitches.”
He did, getting Cabrera to bounce a sinker back to the mound to avert the disaster.
Two innings later, an even bigger threat. After Alex Avila singled and Gibson failed to handle Kevin Romine’s bunt, the Tigers loaded the bases with one out and their best hitter at the plate once more.
“That’s living dangerous, when you load the bases up with Cabrera,” Gardenhire said. “Living very dangerous.”
Pitching coach Rick Anderson visited the mound “to make sure I realize that in those RBI situations, he’s pretty aggressive. So try to miss down,” Gibson said.
He threw a sinker outside for ball one.
“Then Kurt [Suzuki, the catcher] and I were on the same page — he called an inside sinker, and that’s where I wanted to go,” Gibson said. “I thought we were going to catch him leaning in for a sinker or a slider away, and we did. He hit it right at [Trevor] Plouffe, and the defense turned a double play for me.”
Gibson screamed in victory at the 5-4-3 that rescued him, and insisted afterward that that pitch, those situations, is all that separate his best outings from his worst. He may have entered the game with a 7.39 ERA on the road, but this outing didn’t feel appreciably different from those bad ones.
“There was a big chance for that inning to blow up and become a two-, three-, or four-spot and be right back to a normal road start for me,” said Gibson, who threw a career-high 110 pitches and ran his scoreless-inning streak to 15 straight. “From a development standpoint, that’s going to be big for me.”
Same for Escobar, who provided the game’s first run when Tigers starter Drew Smyly left a 1-2 changeup high and over the plate in the third inning. Escobar turned on the pitch and lofted it on top of the bullpen roof in left field, his second home run of the season.
But he was more proud, he said, of his 11-pitch duel with former Twins closer Joe Nathan in the ninth, a bases-loaded walk that drove in the Twins’ second run.
“There were some close pitches, but it was a great at-bat for the kid,” Gardenhire said of Escobar, who had never before, in 13 career chances, taken a bases-loaded walk. “We’ve seen him swing crazy at pitches, too, but he laid off some tough ones this time.”
Just part of the learning curve.