Opinions formed when watching an athlete or team in the short term often turn out to be wrong. No surprise there.
The wondrous thing about sports is how often an opinion formed over long-term observation also turns out to be wrong. The change might be temporary, but it is surprising nonetheless.
On Thursday night, the Twins scored three in the ninth to win 4-2 in a series opener in Kansas City. Look at the updated wild-card standings and you get a lesson on what a two-game winning streak can do in this American League mess.
Kyle Gibson went seven innings, gave up eight hits, didn’t have a strikeout and yet allowed only two runs. It was his fourth straight strong start, dating to Aug. 22. Gibson and Bartolo Colon have been more reliable than Erv Santana and Jose Berrios over those past couple of weeks.
Gibson will turn 30 in October. He had Tommy John surgery in September 2011, and once he recovered, the Twins awaited the day that Gibson would be a 6-foot-6 source of stability in the middle of the rotation.
There was considerable hope for this after he got his ERA under 4.00, his innings to almost 200 and made 32 starts as the Twins managed similar wild-card contention in 2015.
Gibson started the second game of the 2016 season, as the Twins’ No. 2 behind Santana. “Gibson’s the key to the season,’’ Jack Morris told me in spring training.
Jack was right. Gibson had a shoulder problem early and spent time on the disabled list. When the 2016 Twins played, they were horrendous, and when Gibson pitched, he was horrendous – 6-11 with a 5.07 ERA.
“Enough,’’ shouted the fans and much of the media. “We’ve been hearing about this guy for half our lives and this is him. Enough.’’
Gibson was back this spring, of course, more as a sign of Twins’ desperation than an expectation that he could return to the consistent competence of 2015. He threw well in exhibitions, but so what?
He couldn’t strike anyone out, mostly because it was so unusual for him to start a hitter with a strike.
He was throwing batting practice this spring and a gentleman connected to the Twins who shall go nameless said: “He’s the Trump of pitching. He won’t listen to anybody.’’
Gibson made six starts. It was hideous to watch. After another clunker on May 4, he was optioned to Class AAA Rochester. He was there for 2 ½ weeks and returned to the Twins’ rotation for a familiar reason: desperation.
He made 12 starts between May 22 and July 22. The ERA was 5.27. One of the best starts was his last, and then he was again sent to Rochester after the Twins signed Bartolo Colon.
My reaction: “Gibby just threw the ball better than he has all season, and now he’s headed back to Rochester. He’s going to be a sweetheart. Good luck to manager Mike Quade.’’
He made one start in Rochester. He was limited to 5 innings (scoreless) and allowed one hit. He came back and returned to the Twins’ rotation on Aug. 4.
He was OK, at best, but there did seem to be more resolve in going after hitters … meaning, strike one. And the Trumpeter is talking with Chuck Schumer, so, heck, anything’s possible.
The last four starts have been very good: 26 2/3 innings and five earned runs. He didn’t have a strikeout on Thursday, but there were seven strikeouts in a start before that.
This contest for the second AL wild card is a battle of the Keystone Cops vs. the Bowery Boys vs. Abbott & Costello vs. the Kings of Comedy vs. Cheech & Chong vs. Delta Chi.
Did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Heck, no. And now, with 22 games left on the schedule, Twins fans won’t be giving up when Gibby makes his final four starts – not after the last four.