By the time Chris Colabello came to the plate in the eighth inning Thursday night, he faced a real dilemma: He was already 5-for-7 during the Twins’ doubleheader against the Blue Jays, with three doubles, three RBI, and the bases were loaded with teammates, just waiting for the team’s hottest hitter to drive them in. On the other hand, seven Twins had already come to the plate in the inning, and six of them had walked, with three runs scoring on wild pitches.
Swing or wait? Attack or relax? Get on base, or let the Toronto pitchers do it for him? Tough one.
Well, maybe not so tough. Colabello took ball four, too, driving in his fourth run of the day, and Jason Kubel followed with a two-run single, capping a bizarre six-runs-on-one-hit inning and completing a sweep of the frigid day/night doubleheader with a 9-5 victory.
Kyle Gibson pitched eight shutout innings in the first game, a 7-0 victory, and the Twins surged above .500 for the first time since last May.
“Me and [Jason Kubel] were joking in the dugout: ‘Man, we’ve been doing it all wrong. We’ve been trying to hit the ball,’ ” Colabello joked after three Toronto relievers piled up eight walks in the eighth inning to blow a 5-3 lead and allow the Twins to win for the fifth time in six games. “It’s really easy in those situations to get too amped up, and try to hit out of the [strike] zone. But obviously [it was an] awesome approach by everybody.”
Colabello’s approach has been to thwack everything he sees around the diamond, and he raised his batting average to .357 by delivering timely doubles in both games. But he, like the rest of his teammates, had never seen anything like the bullpen meltdown that carried the Twins to victory.
“It was awesome. Every pitch that went by got more exciting,” said Colabello, whose 19 RBI once again lead the American League. “They were falling behind, guys were not biting on tough pitches, and we just kept it going.”
Trailing 5-3 after Mike Pelfrey’s third consecutive flop of a start, the Twins watched reliever Steve Delabar walk Josmil Pinto and Chris Herrmann to open the eighth. Eduardo Nunez sacrificed with two strikes to move both runners into scoring position, and Toronto manager John Gibbons summoned Sergio Santos.
Big mistake. Santos threw a pitch that bounced between catcher Dioner Navarro’s legs, scoring Pinto, then walked Trevor Plouffe. He threw another pitch that bounced past Navarro to tie the score, and walked Kurt Suzuki. Ball four to Brian Dozier also bounced away, and pinch runner Pedro Florimon scored the go-ahead run.
That brought veteran lefthander J.A. Happ in for his first appearance of the season. Happ walked Mauer, Colabello and, after Kubel’s hit, Pinto again. Eight walks, three wild pitches, six runs practically without swinging a bat.
“After [Santos] spiked a couple of fastballs, he went to only sliders, and that’s tough really to command,” Dozier said of a pitch meant to deceive, to look like a strike, then dive out of the zone. “It’s more of a strikeout pitch, and he kept throwing it. So we kept taking it.”
Not since April 19, 1996, when Texas victimized Baltimore, had a big-league team drawn eight walks in an inning.
The messiness of the second game was in stark contrast to the first game, when Gibson stayed warm by exerting (and asserting) himself on the mound. In reducing his ERA to 0.93, he was masterful for as long as manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson would allow. He scattered four hits, all singles; allowed only one baserunner to reach second; and became the first Twins righthander to pitch eight shutout innings in almost a year, since Kevin Correia did it last April.
The temperature didn’t bother Gibson; heck, it made him nostalgic for his college days. At Missouri, “I pitched in snow twice, with the snow actually coming down at game time,” he said. “So I was prepared for it a little bit.”
The Blue Jays weren’t prepared for the big break he is getting on his fastball, and Gibson easily won his third start in a row. The only difficulty he had, actually, was persuading Gardenhire and Anderson that he should be allowed to complete the shutout, despite having thrown 105 pitches in eight innings.
“I said, ‘Just give me 10 [more] pitches.’ [Anderson] said, ‘If I give you 10 pitches, you’re going to be at 115. Third start of the season, that’s not going to happen,’ ” Gibson said. “So I tried, but I didn’t win that one.”
No worries. The Twins did all the winning he needed.