A day later, Kyle Gibson was still wondering about the slow-boil squabble he found himself in the middle of Thursday, and was processing the bewilderment he said he felt over the notion that he was the one who started it.
The facts are these: Gibson’s first pitch to Boston’s third hitter, J.D. Martinez, was armpit-high and a foot inside, and Martinez tumbled to the ground to get out of the way. In the bottom of the inning, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello’s first pitch to Minnesota’s third hitter, Eduardo Escobar, was chin-high and a foot inside, and glanced off Escobar’s elbow as he tried to protect himself, leaving a bruise that forced him out of the game and caused him to miss Friday’s as well.
Five innings later, a Gibson pitch struck Boston catcher Sandy Leon in the hip as he led off the sixth inning.
The first two incidents seem clearly related, and Twins manager Paul Molitor admitted as much after the game, saying, “It didn’t look too good to me.” The Red Sox seemed to agree; the Boston Globe story on the game said that Gibson “wanted nothing to do” with Martinez, and “was not going to take any chances. … Gibson executed his strategy, if a little too aggressively.” Porcello, the story read, “was paying attention.”
And in between, there are plenty of theories and opinions about what really happened, what should have happened, and what might happen in Fenway Park next month. Twins broadcaster Bert Blyleven, angered by Escobar’s injury, tweeted that “if I was pitching for the Twins after Escobar got drilled in his 1st AB, I would have drilled the FIRST batter in the top of the 2nd!!! A pitcher HAS TO protect his everyday players!!! Especially as hot as Escobar has been!!! Not right!”
Gibson, though, said he had no idea that the Red Sox were angry about the pitch to Martinez, which he said was meant to be inside, but not that much. And when Escobar was hit, Gibson didn’t make the connection.
“I hadn’t heard too much about that until [Friday], but I was very surprised,” he said.
The Red Sox seemed to believe that the knockdown was because of Martinez’s history against Gibson; he’s batting .333 with two homers and a .993 OPS against him in his career. Another common theory was that Gibson was annoyed that Martinez took so long to get in the box. But Gibson denied that there was any intent.
“That’s kind of ridiculous,” he said. “Because, one, I didn’t hit him. And if I really wanted to hit him, I wouldn’t have gone down and away with fastballs after that. I had multiple opportunities to hit him. They can think whatever they want to think, I guess.”
He denies hitting Leon on purpose, too, just as Porcello didn’t admit throwing at Escobar. Though Leon, leading off Gibson’s final inning, would make a logical target for a pitcher who didn’t want to risk being thrown out by a fill-in umpire (Tom Woodring) in the second inning, putting his bullpen in a bind.
Gibson said he was alert for trouble, though.
“Whenever a pitch is high around the head, it doesn’t matter if it’s an accident or on purpose, everybody perks up a little bit. I went right to the rail and tried to figure out what was going on,” he said, adding that he “hoped” it wasn’t Porcello’s intent to throw that high. “I tried to watch Porcello, watch their dugout, tried to see how everybody reacted.”
Mostly, though, Gibson said he believes such matters are best left to the players.
“There’s no penalty flags for unsportsmanlike conduct, that’s the beauty of it,” Gibson said. “Sometimes it gets out of hand, and people call it the wild, wild west. But it’s up to us to decide if we like it or not.”