Kyle Gibson, forgotten man, now might start Game 5, a reward for patience and professionalism
Gibson hasn't started since Oct. 1. Now he has a glimmer of hope.
José Alvarado, perhaps the most important relief pitcher on the Phillies’ roster, ran in from the outfield, came up behind Kyle Gibson, perhaps the least important pitcher on the Phillies’ roster, and knocked Gibson’s glove onto the ground. Gibson laughed, shook his head, and picked it up.
He’s in a pretty good mood for a guy whose profile has diminished. He was an All-Star and a trade-deadline darling for the Phillies in 2021. So far in the 2022 playoffs he’s been a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency roster-filler who’s made one appearance.
Before Game 3 of the World Series, Gibson smiled at his circumstance.
“My job is just to be ready,” Gibson said before the rains came. “Maybe they’ll surprise me.”
Color him surprised.
Two hours later, Game 3 was rained out. That scrambled the Phillies’ pitching plans. Noah Syndergaard was slated to start Game 5 when it was scheduled for Wednesday, but if Syndergaard pitches out of the bullpen in Games 3 or 4, Gibson likely would be the starter in Game 5, which has been moved to Thursday.
Phillies manager Rob Thomson said he would expect as many as 65 pitches from Gibson, which likely would mean at least four innings. His last start was Oct. 1. It would be his first playoff start.
If it happens, it happens. If not, well, Gibson figures he’s still a part of one of the best and most remarkable teams in the 140-year history of the Phillies. He’s been philosophical about his role since the postseason began.
“I said to myself, ‘How do I want to remember this season? How do I want to remember this postseason?’” Gibson said. “I definitely don’t want to look back on it and say, ‘I didn’t enjoy that because I was sitting here sulking the whole time because I didn’t pitch. Because I checked out.’ That’s not who I am.”
Now, Gibson has a glimmer of hope and a chance for redemption.
From July 27 to Aug. 27, Gibson went 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA and surrendered three home runs in his last six starts. Zach Eflin was sidelined due to injury. Syndergaard, the 2022 deadline piece, had a 4.40 ERA in his five August starts. Bailey Falter, a part-time starter in his second season, seemed like a bullpen component. Gibson was 9-5 with a 4.08 ERA from April to September. He seemed like a big part of the Phillies’ postseason plans.
Instead, he became a big part of their September swoon.
Gibson managed one quality start in his last six. He went 1-3, and the team went 1-5, in his final six starts. His ERA was 9.73. Opponents hit .364 with a 1.024 OPS. He gave up seven homers. By the time the Phillies hit October, Gibson was radioactive. He said he felt healthy and strong, but, at 35, and after 139 innings, his handlers saw things differently.
“Fatigue,” Thomson said. “It was a fatigue factor coming down the stretch for him.”
Thomson called Gibson into the manager’s office in St. Louis before the wild-card series began and explained that Gibson would be on the playoff rosters, but he’d most likely pitch in games in which a) the bullpen was taxed, and b) the Phillies either led by several runs or, more likely, trailed by several runs.
“Listen,” Gibson told his manager. “We’re here to win. Whatever I can do to help the team — that’s what I’m here to do.”
Anything? He said “Anything?”
Gibson explained: “If that meant throwing a few pitches here and there, or just mentally being in the right spot — just mentally be out there for the guys in the bullpen, because we have a few young guys out there without any playoff experience — I mean, I’ve just been excited to be around the guys.”
Thomson has noticed Gibson’s influence.
“He’s been a complete professional, and a leader down there,” Thomson said. “He’s helped people stay calm and poised. He’s been great.”
Gibson was great when he was called upon.
He has faced just six batters so far, and Thomson didn’t want to do it. David Robertson, coming off an injury, needed 23 pitches to get two outs in the seventh inning of Game 2 of the NLCS, and runners stood on first and second. The Phillies trailed by four runs. Gibby got the call.
“Topper didn’t want to bring me in with guys on base, but we needed to make sure D-Rob didn’t have too long of an inning,” Gibson said. “When he got me out there, he said, ‘Hey, Gibby, sorry I had to get you in right now.’”
Gibson struck out Trent Grisham to end the seventh, gave up a one-out walk and a two-out infield single in the eighth, but escaped. He looked good. He stayed away from his curveball, which is more of a feel pitch. His fastball, which averaged around 92 mph during the season, exceeded 94 mph seven times. His slider and cutter showed good movement.
“I was,” he pointed out, “on 18 days’ rest.”
He has not been heard from in the 12 days since.
His most likely opportunity came in the fifth inning of Game 2 on Saturday, when Zack Wheeler faced the Astros’ lineup for a third time. Thomson stuck with Wheeler, who gave up a two-run homer to the fourth hitter he faced.
Gibson admitted that he wondered if he’d get a chance in the fifth inning, but then he reviewed the usage of the rest of the Phillies’ relievers. They’d had a five-day layoff between the NLCS and the World Series, and they had a day off Sunday, so Gibson resigned himself to cheerleading.
Thomson went with Andrew Bellatti, Connor Brogdon, and Brad Hand.
“In that situation I’d have loved to get an inning or two,” Gibson said, “but you have guys who need to stay sharp.”
Bellatti, Brogdon, and Hand held the Astros scoreless.
Gibson said he wasn’t injured in September. He was, however, baffled. He gave up seven runs to the Giants on Sept. 2 and left after just four outs, his worst start at a Phillie. He’d just given up 12 hits to the Blue Jays. Where am I throwing it? Is it a certain pitch? Am I missing location?
“When I looked at it with Caleb, we saw that I was executing at a really high level,” Gibson said. “There were some things that didn’t go my way. Some really good pitches hit. And some really good hitters. My stuff felt really good. I just didn’t get results.”
Gibson didn’t touch the mound for eight days after his last start on Oct. 1, and when he finally threw a session, the angle felt alien to him. He immediately hit the weight room and did some drills to awaken his legs. For the last two weeks he’s thrown about 15 pitches off the mound every other day. And he’s moved up the depth chart.
Thomson started Falter instead of Syndergaard and Gibson in Game 4 of the NLCS. Falter, a second-year player with just 17 major league starts, didn’t get out of the first inning. He got two outs and gave up four runs.
Falter didn’t make the World Series roster. Kyle Gibson, the forgotten man, did.
Thursday, in front of 46,000 screaming Phillies fanatics, might be the biggest night of his life.