The popular sentiment in baseball when a pitcher gets roughed up early but rebounds in later innings is that he “gave his team a chance to win.” I would also accept “kept his team in the game” as a variation of this theme.
Such back-handed platitudes could be served up to Kyle Gibson after Tuesday’s performance against the Royals. Gibson was rocked early on, giving up four runs after just nine pitches. He was perilously close to being knocked out of the game … but then he rebounded, started putting up zeros and wound up with a complete game and just those four runs allowed.
In the strictest sense of the term, Gibson did, indeed, give the Twins a chance to win. A starting pitcher who goes 8 innings and allows four runs has a subpar 4.50 ERA for the game, but he has nonetheless technically kept the game within the reach of one mighty swing. It was certainly better, of course, than giving up more runs or leaving the mess to the bullpen.
Against the Royals, though, it’s a comforting bit of nonsense that belies reality to suggest Gibson gave the Twins a realistic chance to win. Gibson gave the Twins a small fraction of a chance to win and a heaping portion of a chance to lose when he put them in that 4-0 hole.
When given at least three runs of support, Kansas City starting pitchers are a combined 55-13 this season. Over the past two season, they are a combined 109-30. The Royals turn most games into six-inning affairs given how good their bullpen is. At the worst, they are seven-inning games.
From early May of 2014 through the middle of August 2015, the Royals won 111 consecutive games in which they had a lead after seven innings. Against the Royals, 4-0 feels like 8-0. Even though the Twins managed two early runs off of Royals starter Edinson Volquez, by the time he got through seven innings it was lights-out in a 4-2 Kansas City win.
So yes, Gibson does deserve manager Paul Molitor’s platitudes for showing “heart.” But the full quote from Molitor tells the real story of the game:
“He was able to show that he’s got heart. He’s a pitch away from not recording an out, and he gives us a complete game,” Molitor said. “Nice job of bouncing back. Unfortunately, there’s no mulligans in baseball.”
Particularly not against a team like the Royals.