Looking back on Kyle Gibson’s start, a 6-2 victory in which he went 6.0 innings, gave up eight hits, two runs and struck out five batters, the Minnesota Twins' first-round pick from 2009 was set up to succeed.
Of course, you have to give him credit for striking out batters and inducing hits, as well as staying calm under pressure, but he was also called up on June 24 (five days before his scheduled start), spotted a five-run lead in the first inning and had catcher Joe Mauer sitting behind the dish, guiding the rookie pitcher through his first start.
It should come as no surprise, when you think about it, that Gibson won the first start he ever made in the major leagues.
He was called up five days before his start
It sounds absurd that it would matter when a player is brought up, right?
I mean, their job is to pitch in the game, and why do you need an extra body taking up space in the clubhouse, using the hot water in the showers and taking up a locker stall that could be used for lost and found?
“Bringing him in early and letting him sit around, get acclimated, [address the media]” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “it didn’t fall in one day, just one big boom right in his face.
“That was nice.”
His debut was a big deal. He was the first big prospect since Matt Garza back in 2006 to come up and pitch for the Twins and is seen as part of the solution to Minnesota’s ongoing pitching woes.
“There wasn’t as much media back then,” said Gardenhire, referring to the Garza call-up, “so this is probably a lot bigger with all the outlets we have now.”
Gibson acknowledged that the comfort of joining the big league team almost a week before his debut helped him when he was on the mound Saturday.
“The five days that I spent here definitely helped,” he said. “It definitely calmed some nerves and gave me a little bit of [comfort] and a familiarity with the clubhouse and with the guys.”
Instead of having to hop on a plane from Rochester, N.Y., to Minneapolis, address the media scrum and then pitch with a whole new set of teammates, he got to get to know everybody, place all his stuff in his locker stall and get used to the media before his start.
Five days made all the difference with that.
He was handed a five-run lead
OK, there’s a little bit of a five theme going here.
Not only did he have five days to mosey around the clubhouse, but he also had a comfortable five-run lead going into the second inning.
“Definitely going out there and getting a big lead early took a lot of pressure off,” he said. “I was able to make a few pitches with a little less fineness to them.
“The two runs that I gave up, not that they were meaningless runs, but a five-run lead definitely allowed them not to be as big of runs.”
“Early runs kinda take the pressure off of him,” echoed Gardenhire. “He just goes and pounds the strike zone.”
On the flip side, Gibson had to sit around and wait while the Kansas City Royals’ starter Wade Davis threw 53 pitches in the first inning.
“That’s what I was thinking about,” said catcher Joe Mauer. “Hopefully he didn’t sit too long.”
Gibson said he stretched his shoulder out in the dugout and asked the home plate umpire if he could get a couple extra pitches to begin the second inning, but otherwise was unfazed by the long waiting time.
“At that point I wasn’t being too picky,” he said, laughing. “We were putting up runs and it was a long inning, but I’ll definitely take the run support at any point.”
He had Mauer Power
Ah, Mauer Power: There’s nothing quite like it. It’s greener than Snoop Dogg’s lungs, contains more energy than Jim Carrey on Red Bull and is produced right here in Minnesota.
Gibson got a healthy dose all day long, drawing from the power of kindness that radiates from the one they call Gentleman Joe.
“It will be nice to have Joe behind the plate,” said Gardenhire on Saturday morning, “You hope he can control the guy and not let him get too excited.”
In the third inning, Gibson gave up a single to Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar scored him on a single, and Eric Hosmer singled to put two men on base with no outs.
Mauer slowly walked to the mound, put an arm around Gibson and chatted with the rookie pitcher for a couple minutes before returning to the dish.
Gibson allowed another run to score, but got out of the inning without giving the Royals a chance to cut into the lead any further.
“Joe and I had a pretty good plan,” said Gibson. “He did a good job calling the game.”
There are gripes to be had with a team that had less than 70 wins in the past two seasons, but one thing Minnesota has always done well is put their young players in a position to succeed.
The Twins stuck it out with Trevor Plouffe, gave him a mentor in Josh Willingham, and last year he hit 24 home runs.
Brian Dozier might have been a subpar shortstop, but they moved him to second base in the offseason, and he’s turned out to be a solid defensive player with some pop.
Then, when the big pitching prospect comes up, they let him spend some time in the clubhouse and put Mauer behind home plate.
Those five runs? That was just a bonus.
Tom Schreier covers Minnesota sports for Bleacher Report and is a contributor to Yahoo! Sports.