Pitch mixup extends Gibson's home run woes

April 14th, 2024

PHOENIX -- Unable to come to communicate what pitch would be next to D-backs slugger Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Cardinals veteran right-hander did the right thing and stepped off the rubber before what would become the decisive moment of Saturday’s sixth inning.

However, when the pitch confusion continued, Gibson used the PitchCom device on his glove to call for a sinker -- instead of the slider that catcher Willson Contreras had asked for previously. All those machinations led to the pitch timer dying quickly and Gibson had to hurry his sinker to Gurriel. Even though the location was off the plate -- low and inside, to be exact -- the slugger with the colorful purple hair jumped all over it and smashed a three-run homer that lifted the D-backs to a 4-2 victory over the Cardinals.

As it turns out, the Cards were undone on Saturday by their pitcher and catcher’s inability to quickly get on the same page at the game’s biggest moment.

“When Willie and I are on the same page and I’m not shaking [off pitch selections], it’s easy to forget where the buttons are on the transmitter,” Gibson said candidly. “The couple of times when we had issues, I was trying to find the pitch I wanted, and I kept hitting the wrong button.

“I had to step off because I wasn’t finding the right pitch. Willie called slider and I wanted to throw a sinker. Sometimes, just say yes to your catcher and move on. He did a good job all night and was right on it. I messed up and shook to the wrong pitch.”

For the 36-year-old Gibson, the scenario was one that has come far too often in his first season with the Cardinals after signing with his hometown team in November. Gurriel’s blast was the fifth home run that Gibson has allowed thus far in three starts, tying for the second-most allowed in the Majors behind only San Diego’s Michael King with six. Of the 13 earned runs that Gibson has allowed, 11 have come via the long ball. Just five days earlier, he surrendered a pair of three-run homers vs. Miami.

“I think I’ve given up [two runs] outside of home run balls," Gibson said. "It’s frustrating, especially because I normally do a decent job of keeping the ball in the ballpark. It’s frustrating to look back at outings and say, ‘Man, if you keep the ball in the ballpark, it’s obviously a lot different.’ It’s something I’ll work on and sometimes it’s just sequencing and location.”

Gurriel’s three-run homer came right after the Cardinals missed a golden opportunity to break the 1-1 tie in the top of the sixth inning. After Paul Goldschmidt led off with a single and Nolan Gorman doubled, Goldschmidt broke for home on contact and was caught in a rundown. Then, when Contreras lined the ball to right, Gorman failed to tag from third and was unable to advance. Following an intentional walk to Lars Nootbaar, Jordan Walker struck out on three pitches.

“It’s a contact play so when I see him swinging I’ve got to take some hard steps toward the plate so that I can get there in case it’s a ground ball,” said Gorman, who was 1-for-4 with a double. “But, once it’s in the air, you’ve got to do your best getting back [to third base], but those low line drives with outfielders coming in, it’s tough. You just have to do your best to stop in your tracks and get back to the bag.”

The Gurriel home run stopped Gibson in his tracks after he had settled in nicely following a first inning with lots of traffic and one run allowed on a deep fly ball. Following a leadoff single in the second to Gabriel Moreno, Gibson retired 11 straight D-backs hitters.

“I think Gibby gave us a good shot by limiting damage and getting 11 in a row leading into that [sixth] inning,” manager Oliver Marmol said. “He kept the ball on the ground and mixed his pitches well."

In the end, Gibson’s strong outing was undone by the low-and-inside pitch to Gurriel following the PitchCom mixup and shaking off the slider suggestion by Contreras.

“I’d say I want that one pitch back, but I can’t set it out there in a better place,” said Gibson, who had strong conviction about throwing a sinker because he was hoping for a double-play ball that might have blunted Arizona’s rally. “I executed the pitch to a guy who I’ve thrown that pitch to before a decent number of times, and it didn’t end up like that. He put a good swing on it and sometimes you just have to tip your cap.”