The Minnesota Twins had a disastrous first inning. Josh Donaldson hit his first of two home runs. Justin Smoak, Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins all walked. And Kyle Gibson returned to the dugout having given up four runs in the first frame.
The Toronto Blue Jays response? “Hold my beer.”
Eddie Rosario led off the second inning with a home run and would also record a single. Byron Buxton followed him with a homer of his own and also had an RBI double. Eduardo Escobar, Jason Castro and Brian Dozier all had singles. Robbie Grossman walked. Jays starter Joe Biagini didn’t make it out of the inning.
Gibson? He went six, struck out eight and retired 13 in a row after Donaldson’s second homer. Molitor admitted after the game that there were many times in the first two innings that he was close to pulling Gibson.
“It was very close,” he admitted.
“[He] was one pitch away a couple of times … we all saw what he did in the beginning, but then he had a couple 3-0 counts — one in the second and one in the third — where we couldn’t afford another baserunner with the matchups coming up, and he came back to get both of those guys in those situations.”
Gibson has turned things around. Since his Aug. 17 start against the Cleveland Indians, when he lasted only four innings in the first game of a doubleheader, Gibson has gone at least six innings in each of his six starts.
He’s also received plenty of run support.
Twins have outscored opponents 61-12 in Gibby’s last 6 starts. He’s 5-0 in those starts; Twins are 6-0.
— Heather Rule (@hlrule) September 17, 2017
“Of all the things he’s done, he’s had a nice run of five starts that were really good,” said Molitor. “But this one in some ways is maybe a little bit more impressive, the fact that yes, we got back in the game, but to give us six innings after that start, that was pretty good for us.”
The run support came from up and down the lineup but Rosario went 3-for-4 with a pair of homers, and both Joe Mauer and Buxton were a triple short of the cycle. In fact, it was Mauer’s grand slam in the fifth inning to put the game out of reach for Toronto.
“He kinda shocked us all a little bit by turning on that pitch,” said Molitor. “You don’t see the pull homers too much, but it couldn’t have come at a better time to spread it out a little bit.”
Twins' best AVG with bases loaded (min. 100 PA):
.381 Rod Carew
.375 Joe Mauer
.345 Harmon Killebrew
.341 Justin Morneau
.333 Kirby Puckett
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) September 17, 2017
Mauer is now hitting .303/.383/.414 and is hitting .364/.419/.473 this month.
“Joe’s endured here a lot the last few years,” said Molitor. “He’s found a way this year to be out there on a regular basis, taking advantage of a break here and there to make sure that he stayed strong, and he’s been our most consistent taking-a-good-at-bat kinda guy, not to mention Gold Glove defense.”
It’s not only Mauer who is clicking, and all these comebacks are starting to create an impression that there is something special about this year’s Twins team.
Both Molitor and Gibson were asked if Gibson should start the Wild Card game, given how well the offense hits when he’s pitching. The truth of the matter is he’s got to get off to better starts, and the bats are capable of going off at any time.
These comebacks are encouraging. Now the team heads off on a 10-game road trip where they will play four games in New York and three in Cleveland. If anything, this trip will text a team that is riding high after three comeback wins in the past five games.