Gibson virtually flawless in Twins’ narrow win

Kyle Gibson was the story of the game for Minnesota against Chicago, after he allowed just four hits and struck out four in eight scoreless innings.

Jesse Johnson/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Gibson wanted the ninth inning.

The Twins right-hander had not previously pitched into the ninth in 45 prior major-league starts. And though he pitched through eight scoreless innings Friday against the White Sox, Gibson knew his day was done when he saw manager Paul Molitor waiting for him in the dugout after the eighth inning.

"I knew that wasn’t a good sign," Gibson said. "I shook his hand, didn’t really let go for a while and said, ‘Mollie, hey, I want that inning.’ I’m never going to second-guess him on those decisions."

Though things got a bit dicey in the ninth inning when closer Glen Perkins took over for Gibson, the decision ultimately paid off for the Twins, who held on to beat Chicago by a 1-0 final. Gibson was the story of the game for Minnesota after he allowed just four hits and struck out four in eight scoreless innings.

The Twins’ only run of the game came when designated hitter Kennys Vargas barrelled home from third base on a wild pitch by White Sox starter Jose Quintana in the fifth inning. With the way Gibson was throwing the ball Friday and working out of jams, that one proved to be just enough.

Gibson threw 94 pitches through his eight innings and matched his career long for innings pitched in a start. Even though Gibson still felt strong late in the game following a 1-2-3 eighth inning, Molitor had already decided to turn to Perkins to close out the win.

"He wanted to go back out for the ninth, and I can’t blame him because his pitch count would have allowed him to do that," Molitor said of Gibson. "But in a one-run game, I had my fresh closer, so we went with that. But Gibby, back-to-back starts where he’s been really good."

Friday’s outing came five days after Gibson earned a no-decision in Seattle after allowing two runs in seven innings of Minnesota’s extra-innings win Sunday. Since his season debut in which he gave up six runs in just 3 2/3 innings, Gibson has been sharp. He’s 2-1 with a 2.03 ERA in his last four starts.

Gibson’s emergence has been part of a bigger movement by the Twins’ rotation, which has steadied as of late. The rotation is set to get another piece back Saturday as Ricky Nolasco will make his return from the disabled list. Minnesota announced Friday that left-handers Tommy Milone and Caleb Thielbar will be optioned to Triple-A Rochester to make room for Nolasco and left-handed reliever Brian Duensing.

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Minnesota’s offense has carried the team in several games as of late. Friday night, it was Gibson doing the heavy lifting — with some help from his defense.

One of the biggest plays of the night came in the top of the fifth inning when right fielder Torii Hunter made a catch at the wall to take away a potential extra-base hit from Chicago’s Conor Gillaspie to lead off the inning. After Hunter made the catch, the fans at Target Field chanted "Torii! Torii! Torii!" just like they used to do during Hunter’s first stint with the Twins.

"I think Torii’s catch impacted it a lot, mainly because starting off an inning with a guy on second or with one out is a big difference," Gibson said. "Any time you start off an inning against a good team like this with a double, most likely you’re going to give up a run unless you can mix in a couple strikeouts. For Torii to sacrifice his body like that and get back to the wall and make that catch was a big catch."

Gibson also received some nice plays by third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who saved a potential run in the seventh by stabbing a grounder at third. Minnesota’s defense also turned two double plays behind Gibson, including one to end the second inning after Chicago put runners on second and third with just one out.

"They turned some big double plays, were in the right spot at the right time," Gibson said. "I can’t say enough about those guys behind me."

With Friday’s win, Minnesota improved to within one game of .500 at 11-12. After several years of futility in the starting rotation, the Twins’ starters have seemingly started to turn a corner.

That includes Gibson, who took one step forward last year when he won 13 games. If he has more games like the one he had Friday, he should see his win total increase in 2015.

"We’ve had confidence in ourselves all season," Gibson said of the rotation. "I think we’ve got a good group of guys. I think everybody would tell you that. We’ve got a lot of confidence. I think the way we’ve been throwing, we like our chances."

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