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Gibson returns to form as Twins beat Astros

HOUSTON — Last week in Oakland, Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson allowed at least five earned runs in a start for the eighth time this season.

That stat serves as a stark contrast to the 11 other starts where he allowed one earned run or fewer and looked like a potential staff ace.

On Wednesday at Minute Maid Park, the Twins got the great Gibson, who carried a shutout into the eighth inning, outdueled mound counterpart Brett Oberholtzer and pitched Minnesota to a 3-1 win and a three-game series victory over the Houston Astros.

Gibson (11-9) allowed six hits — all singles — and walked two while striking out four in 7 2/3 innings. He lost a shutout bid when Astros designated hitter Chris Carter blooped a two-out single into shallow left field to score second baseman Jose Altuve, who reached on an infield hit.

Gibson, lifted for right-hander Casey Fien after the Carter run-scoring hit, had surrendered eight total runs in his last two starts, but his effort against the Astros (50-71) was reminiscent of his mid-June stretch of dominance when he made three consecutive scoreless starts.

“Fastball command has been really important,” Gibson said. “Today my fastball command was much better than in Oakland. Today I was able to locate my fastball. When I can move it in and out like that and keep it low in the zone and have the movement that I had on it, that helps out a lot.”

Oberholtzer (4-8) was almost as impressive, logging his 11th consecutive start of at least six innings pitched while surrendering one run in seven innings — a sixth-inning leadoff homer to Twins first baseman Joe Mauer, who extended his hitting streak to 15 games.

Oberholtzer, who gave up with six hits and one walk with four strikeouts, has allowed 12 earned runs in his last six starts (and 41 innings) but is just 2-1 with three no-decisions during that stretch.

“That’s baseball,” Oberholtzer said. “I felt like I pitched pretty well and gave the team a chance to win. Gibson did a really good job over there. He got out of that jam in the seventh where I thought maybe we could’ve capitalized with a few runs. Carter’s RBI came an inning too late and we were always working from behind.”

The Twins (54-65) tacked on two critical insurance runs in the eighth inning off Astros right-hander Josh Fields. Center fielder Danny Santana (single), second baseman Brian Dozier (double) and Mauer (intentional walk) reached to open the inning and in advance of designated hitter Kennys Vargas, whose two-run single to center built the lead to 3-0.

“I’m starting to feel pretty good at home plate, starting to recognize better pitches and don’t swing too much,” said Vargas, who recalled a teammate being intentionally walked ahead of him two days before his Aug. 1 Twins debut. “Be patient, wait for my pitch and try to hit it hard.”

Minnesota left-hander Glen Perkins notched his 30th save by retiring the side in order in the ninth. If not for two softly hit balls in the eighth, Gibson would have earned the opportunity to finish what he started.

“I know he was disappointed he didn’t finish it because I could see by the seventh inning he really wanted to finish that thing,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “But a great performance.”

Astros manager Bo Porter said, “I felt like he (Gibson) really threw the ball well, a really good power sinker. He threw his cutter well in on lefties, the slider was short and quick, but we also had some opportunities that we missed.”