Rangers starter Kyle Gibson made some mechanical adjustments for this game, trying to get more comfortable with runners on base and with two outs. But manager Chris Woodward wanted to see more than that.
Woodward wanted to see a different mentality from his struggling starter. The manager wanted to see Gibson be aggressive in attacking the strike zone with all his pitches. Woodward also needed to see it sooner rather than later.
“I was really anxious to see how this start was going to go,” Woodward said. “I was really intrigued. I wanted to see how this plays out.”
It played out brilliantly, maybe the best start of Gibson’s career -- and certainly one that was badly needed. Gibson delivered his first Major League shutout and Joey Gallo rewarded him with a win, delivering an RBI double with two outs in the ninth to give the Rangers a 1-0 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
“It's hard to put it into words,” Gibson said. “So much over the last few weeks have gone into that right there. Lots of discussions, lots of work in the bullpen, talking with a lot of people and, all the while, trying to make sure that you know to try to keep the same confidence and never let one or two outings shake who I am on the mound.”
Gibson earned his first victory since Aug. 15, which was the last win by a Rangers starter other than Lance Lynn. The Rangers’ win also snapped a seven-game losing streak on the road, leaving them 5-18 away from Arlington.
“Wow … yeah,” Woodward said. “There were some physical things, but I think the mentality change was everything. A lot of balls not hit hard, executing pitches, got some chase when the pitches were close to the strike zone and that all started with the ball over the plate with all of his stuff.”
Gibson, 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA in his last five starts, allowed four hits and three walks while striking out nine. Gibson faced 32 batters and threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of them, a 75-percent rate that was well over his 63.7 rate for the season.
Gibson mixed his pitches by using his slider 36 percent of the time, up from his season average of 23.6 percent. Seven of 11 swing-and-misses came off the slider. Catcher Jeff Mathis, besides impeccable pitch calling, assisted by throwing out two attempted basestealers.
"[Gibson] kept the ball down and he had a low-ball umpire, which helped him,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “He was starting us off with first pitch low and away fastball, or a whole bunch of breaking balls. That’s what he did, mostly, and he finished guys off with a fastball. That’s the best game he’s thrown in a long time. He threw a heck of a game.”
Gibson had to battle Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr., who held the Rangers scoreless on just two hits through seven innings. The Rangers finally broke through in the ninth when Leody Taveras reached on an infield single against Astros reliever Ryan Pressly, went to second on Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s grounder and scored on Gallo’s double.
“Both pitchers pitched outstanding, but it's a fun game,” Gallo said. "I mean, the tempo of the game was outstanding. Just working quick. I feel like I ran out to the outfield, and two minutes later, I was running back into the dugout. Gibby was unbelievable tonight. The best I've ever seen him.”
Gibson threw 97 pitches through eight innings and the Rangers had closer Rafael Montero ready for the ninth. But Woodward stayed with Gibson.
“I told our guys, ‘This is Gibby’s game,’” Woodward said. “‘I am not messing with it. He is throwing the ball too well. He’s earned it.’ The decision after that was if somebody got on. If it was nobody out or one out, I would have gone out and got him.”
Gibson, facing the Astros’ best, struck out Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley. Then Alex Bregman doubled on a 1-2 pitch. Woodward went to the mound with Kyle Tucker, a left-handed hitter, coming to the plate.
“To be honest, I was 50-50,” Woodward said. “I wanted to hear it from him, I wanted to look in his eyes and see what he looked like. If he was expecting me to take him out, that would have given me some indication that he was done. Right there, it’s his game.”
Gibson finished it by getting Tucker to line out to first baseman Ronald Guzmán for just the third complete game of his eight-year career.
“I did think I was getting taken out, because you still want to win the game,” Gibson said. “You get to that point, and a fresh arm in the bullpen might be able to get an out a little bit faster. I’d be lying if I thought Woody was coming out there just to say hello and leave me in. There are only a few situations where I am going to take myself out of the game, and that’s not one of them.”