On the bright side, Kyle Gibson does this every year — but only once.
Gibson tied his career high with five walks Wednesday, or more than he had issued in his past five starts combined. And against the defending World Series champions, the free passes had a predictable effect: Lengthened rallies, higher pitch counts and, ultimately, a 9-4 Red Sox victory at Target Field.
The Twins’ defeat closed an otherwise memorable homestand with a 5-4 record and melted another game off their AL Central lead, now nine games over Cleveland, the smallest margin since May 25.
It should have been better, Gibson said, blaming himself.
“That might have been some of the worst stuff I’ve had in quite awhile,” said the righthander, who dropped to 7-4. “Fastball command wasn’t very good. It is frustrating. When I did execute a pitch, it was a base hit somewhere.”
Gibson had made cutting down on walks a priority for this season, his final one before free agency, and entered Wednesday’s homestand finale with only 17 all season, and a 2.0 walks-per-nine-innings rate that’s by far the best of his career. But his control eluded him, and the Red Sox tagged him for a pair of three-run innings.
Gibson has walked five batters in a game six times during his career — once in each of the past six seasons.
“Obviously he was working through it and trying to battle it out and find his release point,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s a start that we’re probably going to learn some things from. Probably one I’m sure Gibby wants to wipe clean, and look back at those good starts he’s had and try to regain.”
Staked to a 1-0 lead after an inning — though the Twins might have scored more if not for Jackie Bradley Jr.’s throw to the plate to nail C.J. Cron — Gibson allowed five consecutive batters to reach base in the second inning, three on hits plus a pair of walks. Brock Holt, Michael Chavis and Mookie Betts all drove in runs.
Three innings later, four of the five hitters Gibson faced reached base, ending his start after only 4⅓ innings, his shortest appearance since April 11, 2018. Xander Bogaerts drove in a run with a double, Holt with a sacrifice fly and Chavis with a single that finally prompted Baldelli to reluctantly make a pitching change.
That left the Twins’ bullpen, one night after being called upon to provide 11 innings of relief, with nearly five more innings to pick up. Newcomer Sean Poppen, a Twin for only a couple of hours, handled most of that load. The rookie righthander threw 70 pitches in four innings, allowed three runs in the eighth, and was sent back to Class AAA Rochester after the game for his trouble.
“That was my job. At the very least, I did my job,” Poppen said. “I’m satisfied.”
So was Baldelli.
“Him going out and doing that really helps us in a lot of different ways,” Baldelli said. “Our bullpen gets to reset now. It’s easier said than done to send a guy out there in that situation and just say, ‘Pitch and get outs.’ It doesn’t always work out where the guy gets through four innings for you, and he did. Which was very nice.”
So was the return of Willians Astudillo, who delivered three hits, including a home run, in four at-bats — and only seven pitches.
“It’s cool for me,” said Astudillo, who batted .536 at Rochester. “And if I can help the team win, I feel satisfied that I can hit.”