CHICAGO – A bona fide, unpredictable thrill ride of a pennant race returns to Target Field on Thursday, and the timing is probably propitious for the Twins. No, they’re not an entrant in the AL West’s dash to the finish, but they could use a dog-days dose of the focus that comes from Baseball That Matters.
That became apparent Wednesday, when Kyle Gibson’s mind kept wandering from the task at hand, when Carlos Rodon mesmerized the Twins with a metronome repertoire of fastballs in and fastballs away, and the defense couldn’t solve another baserunning conundrum. You know how hard it can be to fight off momentary drowsiness in the midsummer sunshine? Yeah, the Twins’ 7-3 loss to the White Sox felt like that.
“We didn’t do much,” said Twins’ manager Paul Molitor, whose 62nd birthday never looked like much of a party. “Kyle’s had a lot of good days. I probably wouldn’t characterize [Wednesday] as one of them.”
Nor would he. Gibson had only allowed three home runs in a game once in his career. He hadn’t had an inning turn five-run disastrous in more than a year and a half. He had mostly given up his habit of mentally prosecuting every pitch before throwing it. But Wednesday was the exception to a lot of rules, and Rodon kept the Twins from fighting back.
“I was probably overthinking the situation. Probably shook Garv [catcher Mitch Garver] off way too much. Just making it too complicated,” Gibson complained after being charged with only his second career loss at Guaranteed Rate Field. “Days like [Wednesday], you kind of lose focus of that premise, of just going out and executing pitches.”
The Twins, or more specifically, Jorge Polanco on a two-run homer, handed Gibson a lead in the first inning, but the Twins righthander gave it back, one blast at a time. He fell behind Nicky Delmonico 3-0, and couldn’t come back before Chicago’s first baseman clobbered a center-cut fastball into the right field seats. He tried a low-and-outside fastball to Tim Anderson that got golfed into the left-field stands. And in the fifth inning, after walking Omar Narvaez, he got ahead of Adam Engel 0-2 and stubbornly kept throwing the same sinker, over and over, until Engel put one in the bullpen.
“Probably wasn’t that bad of a pitch. But when you’re thrown five in a row already,” predictability isn’t your friend, Gibson acknowledged. “That was the time to go to a slider, and Garv called it, and I shook him off, trying to get a double play.”
It was the second time that Gibson had ever allowed three homers; the other was in 2015. And he quickly made matters worse by walking Yolmer Sanchez, giving up a single to Avisail Garcia and loading the bases (thanks to an error by Logan Forsythe) for Matt Davidson, who singled home two more.
“Walks and homers are pretty much the two things I despise the most, just because I feel like I should be able to keep the ball in the park,” Gibson said. “Wasn’t able to do it [Wednesday], and that’s how it goes.”
That is how it goes for the Twins these days, which is why jumping in the middle of the Oakland-Houston-Seattle pennant race — seven games with the A’s, and three with the Astros are still to come — might be good for the Twins.
Their offense had been cooking, scoring at least five runs in eight consecutive games. That ended Wednesday, too, because after Polanco provided yet another Chicago home run — he has seven in his 17 career games in this park, or one more than the six he’s hit in 117 games in Target Field — Rodon allowed only an infield hit over the next five innings.
And though it wound up costing them nothing, the Twins had another bit of strangeness on the field, when Miguel Sano fielded a Garcia grounder with runners on first and third, and threw home. Sanchez stopped and Garver ran him back to third base, where Yoan Moncada turned around and headed back to second, while Garcia skittered back to first. Garver held the ball, the Twins recorded no outs, and the crowd enjoyed a laugh at the Twins’ expense.
“Just didn’t handle the rundown as cleanly as we should,” Molitor said. “Kind of the way things were going.”