KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Six pitches into his start Tuesday, Kyle Gibson had loaded the bases. Nine pitches into his start, he trailed by four runs.
At least he kept his pitch count down.
The Royals, clearly following a strategy of attacking the Twins’ sinker-baller early, scored four runs before Gibson recorded an out, but then fell into Gibson’s ground-ball spell, putting only two more runners on base all night. Trouble was, Gibson’s teammates couldn’t muster much, either, and Minnesota absorbed a disappointing 4-2 loss at Kauffman Stadium that dropped them two and a half games behind Texas in the wild-card chase.
Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer drove home runs for the Twins, but Kansas City starter Edinson Volquez and All-Star relievers Wade Davis and Greg Holland made sure they got no more. Like the Royals, the Twins rarely even put runners on base in the late innings, meaning the game was essentially decided by Gibson’s first nine pitches.
“They came out swinging. I was definitely surprised,” Gibson said after falling to 9-10 with his first loss since Aug. 6. “Most teams come out and take [pitches] and see if my sinker is going to stay in the zone.”
These Royals didn’t wait. Perhaps it was because Gibson had five wins in seven career starts against them, maybe it was the 2.20 ERA vs. Kansas City, or maybe it was because, as Twins manager Paul Molitor noted before the game, against Gibson’s sinker “when you immediately get behind [in the count], it’s harder to have discipline” to wait for a good pitch.
Molitor’s office must be bugged, because his words became Kansas City’s game plan. Ben Zobrist smacked Gibson’s first pitch of the night into left field for a hit, and Alex Gordon lined his next pitch to right for another. A four-pitch walk to Lorenzo Cain broke that spell but also loaded the bases.
Eric Hosmer tried to continue the trend, but fouled off the first pitch. He clobbered the next one, though, an 84-mph changeup that carried over center fielder Byron Buxton’s head for a bases-clearing double. And before Gibson knew what hit him, Kendrys Morales bashed Gibson’s first-pitch curveball into the right-field corner for another double, scoring Hosmer.
Nine pitches. Four runs.
“Really, the one pitch if I could take back was the one to Hosmer,” Gibson said. “I was trying to throw an inside changeup down, make it play off the fastball, and I just left it belt high.”
Pitching coach Neil Allen made one of his earliest mound visits ever, telling Gibson, “That’s all they get.” But the Twins also told reliever Logan Darnell to start warming up, just in case. And Gibson promptly walked Mike Moustakas, bringing up Salvador Perez.
He didn’t know it, but Gibson was on a tightrope by then.
“He got down 3-and-1 with Perez, but then he got a fly ball to center,” Molitor said. “If he loses [Perez], then I’ve got to go to Darnell.”
Instead, Gibson recorded that out — on his 22nd pitch — then forced Alex Rios to bounced into an inning-ending double play, and suddenly the normal, ground-ball guru Gibson was back. From that point on, Gibson induced 11 ground balls and, besides a pair of harmless hits by Gordon, didn’t allow another hit. In fact, Gibson registered his first career complete game, albeit in a loss.
“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.”