ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – In five of Kyle Gibson’s six innings Tuesday, he pitched like the future maestro the Twins believe him to be. In his other inning, he pitched like the rookie he still is.
Waiting is the hardest part.
Maybe because he’s noticed how difficult it seems for his teammates to mount a run-scoring rally, the Twins rookie generously set one up for the Rays by himself. Making his third big-league start, Gibson walked the bases loaded in the fourth inning, then surrendered a couple of two-out, two-run hits that delivered Tampa Bay’s seventh consecutive victory over the Twins, 4-1 at Tropicana Field.
While second-place Tampa Bay kept the AL East race tight with its sixth consecutive victory overall, Minnesota fell to 37-50 this season, the sixth major league team to reach 50 losses. Last year, the Twins had 36 victories when they lost their 50th; the year before, they had 44 wins. So if it seems a little familiar, well, it’s all new to Gibson.
“It stings a little bit,” the rookie righthander admitted, “having good stuff and not giving the team a chance to win.”
He’s got that part right; once Matt Joyce singled home two runs and Kelly Johnson doubled in another pair, the Twins’ chances of avoiding their ninth loss in 10 games were effectively over. A four-run inning, are you kidding? The Twins haven’t had one of those this month; in fact, they’ve managed a four-spot only twice since May. But the Twins have allowed their opponents to cha-ching eight four-run innings in that time.
Run-scoring didn’t appear out of the question against Rays starter Chris Archer (3-3). But three fly balls were caught on the warning track, another on a running catch.
“We hit balls right on the screws. We were killing baseballs. We were hitting them as hard as we could hit them, just right at people,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I thought we had quality at-bats.”
“If a couple of those fall, it’s a different ballgame,” agreed third baseman Trevor Plouffe. “But [the problem] is more than hitting. We’ve got to play better as a team. We hit some balls hard tonight and didn’t have anything to show for it.”
Neither did the Rays, actually. Except for the fourth inning, Tampa Bay never advanced a runner to third base. (Of course, except for their lone unearned run created without a hit, neither did the Twins.)
But the fourth inning opened with a pair of walks and a wild pitch, “and I just let it get away from me,” Gibson said. “I walked a guy [leadoff hitter Desmond Jennings] I had been attacking all day. Then worried about him too much on first base, and walked the second guy [Luke Scott].”
Gibson retired Ben Zobrist on a pop fly to center and struck out Evan Longoria, and he believed he would escape. But after getting ahead of James Loney 0-2, “I didn’t do a good enough job to put him away, then put myself in position where I had to pick a little bit.”
He walked Loney to load the bases and, growing frustrated with himself, Gibson threw hittable pitches to Joyce, who blooped a single in front of center fielder Aaron Hicks to score two, and to Johnson, who laced a double to the wall in left-center, scoring two more.
Some rookies would have been finished by that time. Gibson, though, “just kind of got tired of it, and went back out and attacked,” retiring six of the final seven hitters he faced. “I guess maybe it was just frustration over the big inning.”
The Twins had frustrations of their own. They went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Oswaldo Arcia lost a foul fly ball in the lights, and it hit him in the face. And in the ninth, after back-to-back singles by Joe Mauer and Ryan Doumit, their 4-5-6 hitters all struck out swinging against Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney.
“One bad inning,” Gardenhire said. “That’s what undid us.”