The Twins are obsessed with deficits these days, calculating how far back they are behind Houston, figuring out how many games are left. So the last thing that Kyle Gibson wanted to do was give his teammates another deficit to overcome.
That’s what happened, though, and it took only three pitches.
A ball low. A strike on the corner. And a fastball clocked at 89 miles per hour that landed in the shrubbery blooming near the left-field foul pole. Jason Kipnis’ opposite-field home run deflated the Twins’ send-off party before it even started Thursday night, and the home team never recovered the lost vigor. The Indians’ one-run lead became three, then six, and Cleveland eventually left town with a party-wrecking 6-3 victory at Target Field.
“This team relies on me going out and putting up zeros. When you don’t do that right off that bat, with the first batter, it’s pretty frustrating,” Gibson said after falling to 10-11. “It stings a little bit, that’s for sure.”
The damage was serious but not unrepairable, since the Angels and Astros, the Twins’ chief competition for the American League’s final wild-card spot, did not play Thursday. The Twins dropped into a tie with Los Angeles at 78-74, 1½ games behind Houston with 10 games to play, the next seven of them on the road.
“We’ve backtracked a little bit in the past and found ways to regroup,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said, coincidentally while the TV in his office was airing video of the Royals celebrating after eliminating the Twins and claiming their first division title since 1985. “We’re getting down to it. It’s still fun.”
Maybe so, but it didn’t feel like it after Gibson surrendered six runs and recorded only eight outs, a performance that halted whatever momentum the Twins had built up, whatever pennant fever had infected Target Field, whatever pressure the Twins were putting on their fellow playoff pursuers. After Kipnis’ homer, Gibson gave up a two-out, two-run single to Lonnie Chisenhall in the first inning, then a devastating three-run homer by Carlos Santana two innings later.
“I went back and watched all the video — when I was missing, I was missing over the middle. Belt high, over the middle,” said Gibson, who had given up more than one homer in a game only once this season, on June 5 against Milwaukee. “Every start’s going to be a big start, that’s the frustrating part about tonight. We had a chance to complete a sweep, have a big win, and three innings in, I really made it tough on the offense. Everybody in this locker room deserves better.”
Well, it’s not like the hitters were doing much better. Cody Anderson gave up 10 hits, but half of them came with two outs, so the Twins never could sustain a rally. He took a shutout into the seventh inning, and though Torii Hunter smacked a solo home run, No. 22 this year, the Indians were never particularly threatened.
They did have one chance, in the bottom of the first inning with no out and runners at the corners, when the deficit was still 3-0. But when Aaron Hicks tagged up on Joe Mauer’s shallow fly ball to center, Abraham Almonte threw Hicks out at the plate.
“I thought it was big. You’re trying to get right back in the game after giving up three,” Molitor said. “You try to stay aggressive, but the guy made the play. [If] it’s a little off target, now you’re [down] 3-1 with a man in scoring position and your 4-5 hitters coming up.”
Instead, the deficit only got bigger. Now the Twins must regroup on the road, first in Detroit, and then in, yes, Cleveland. That’s where Gibson’s next start comes, with his ERA against the Indians now 6.99. He’s surprisingly … confident?
“We’re a team that tries to forget losses, move on. We’re pretty resilient,” Gibson said. “I’ve got to be able to bounce back and put up zeros, too.”