I have been known to describe myself as an optimist. I have even gone so far as to describe myself as an “eternal optimist” in one of my posts within the last few months. I am that guy who doesn’t want to leave a game until the last out is recorded, not because I am trying to “get my money’s worth,” but rather because I fully believe that “my team” has a shot to win no matter how large the deficit.
This weekend, the Twins threatened to send me deep into pessimistic territory.
Following Saturday’s 7-1 beat down that the Yankees issued, the Twins had zero wins in their last 12 meetings with the pinstripes, including last postseason. This stretch consisted of what seemed like an infinite number of late inning, come from behind victories, including Friday nights 8-4 loss which included a 7th inning grand slam from Alex Rodriguez to put them ahead 7-4.
Saturday night I was as close as I have ever been to abandoning all optimistic hope and buying into the notion that the Twins just aren’t in the same league as the New York Yankees. I was drinking the kool-aid served up by fatalistic Twins fans that claimed they were unable to hold a late inning lead, because quite frankly, they hadn’t been able to.
My twitter post immediately following the A-Rod grand slam stated, “I think A-Rod's confidence came from the fact that he saw Guerrier wet his pants when he stepped to the plate...”
I was just about to dive head first into pessimism, and then Sunday happened...
Phil Mackey said it best on Twitter when he said, “Twins can exorcise a lot of demons here if Kubel (coldest hitter) comes through w/ bases loaded (achilles heel) against Yankees.” This came just moments before what I would consider the biggest homerun of Kubel’s career. I know that it is May, and this game is only 1 out of 162 that will be played this year. But it is less about the grand slam itself, and more about what it represents.
That homerun was “epic” (yes I just used that word) in more ways than one. It came at a time when the Twins desperately needed it. This is the year that the Twins have been dubbed as “ready to make a world series run.” One of the obstacles standing in the way is the hated Yankees. Getting swept in the Bronx to make it 13 straight losses would not have done well for the psyche of anybody on the roster.
Not only did the Twins come back in the late innings against the Yankees, something that has forever been the other way around, they did it against Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera, probably the best setup man and closer in all of baseball. To put into perspective just how huge this was, here are some facts for you; Rivera’s blown save was his first at home since 2007, a span of 51 consecutive saves. His bases loaded walk to Thome was his first issued since 2005, and the grand slam that Kubel hit was the first given up by Rivera since 2002! I would say that is reason to call the blast “epic.”
Let’s also not forget just how bad Kubel has been so far this season (.225, with 3 HR and 15 RBI), and also how bad the Twins have been with the bases loaded. This late inning comeback against arguably the best closer ever, might be just what Kubel needed to jump start his season, and also what the Twins needed to get going with the bases loaded and give them the confidence that they can win come October.
The other reason for this weekend being good for the Twins organization as a whole was the AA debut of Kyle Gibson.
“There was a time not too long ago when Kyle Gibson's name was mentioned in the same breath as Stephen Strasburg's. Judging by his recent performances in the Minnesota Twins' minor league system, it may happen again in the near future.”
Geoff Morrow of the The Patriot-News hit the nail right on the head regarding Gibson’s Saturday performance. In his debut with a terrible New Britain Rock Cats squad, Gibson went 7.1 innings, giving up zero runs on 4 hits, while walking only 1 and striking out 10. Pretty impressive for a 22 year old already pitching at AA when he didn’t throw a single minor league inning last year due to a stress fracture in his right forearm.
Gibson is on the fast track, some scouts and writers have said that we may see him pitching for the Twins as early as this September, although I believe that time won’t come until next season. Either way it is clear that the Twins have a special talent who fell to them at the #22 pick in last year’s draft, due solely to this forearm stress fracture that prior to diagnosis, many feared was the precursor to elbow problems. Prior to that injury, Gibson was pegged as a top-5 lock, I think you could say this is one time that an injury to a Twins prospect was a good thing.
I am really excited about Gibson soon joining the Twins for more than just the fact that he is a special talent. I also had the chance to speak with him briefly at TwinsFest this past winter, and he is an extremely nice guy. He is very grounded and humble, a strong Christian (he actually signed a baseball for me with a bible verse included below his name, something that I have never seen an athlete do, and I thought this was extremely cool) and seems to be a very genuine individual.
Gibson is now 5-1 with a 1.60 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 50/13 in 50.2 innings on the year, split between A+ and AA. This kid is for real and could be just the ace that this pitching staff will need for years to come.