Jesús Luzardo had his old sports goggles on his cap when he strode to the mound Tuesday night, pushed down over his eyes instead of the contacts he’d been wearing in-game. “Wow” by Bryant Myers, his old walk-out song, blasted over the Coliseum speakers. He went back to his old warm-up routine, too.
Baseball is a game of adjustments, and amid inconsistency so far this year, Luzardo had to re-calibrate back to something a little more familiar. Save for a lighting issue in the left field fixture of Mt. Davis that sliced a 25-delay into his start, his return to normalcy led to a 5 1/3 inning, six strikeout inning that ushered in the A’s 1-0 win, their 10th straight win, and doubleheader sweep of the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night in Oakland.
“I felt like my old self for the first time all year,” Luzardo said. “I felt like I was getting away from myself, and now I feel like I’m back to myself.”
The win followed a 7-0 win earlier that afternoon; they’ve now collected back-to-back shutouts for a second time in the last five games. The 10-game winning streak is the ninth in Oakland A’s history and first since May in 2019 and, with a 12-7 record, moves them into tied for first place in the American League West with the Seattle Mariners.
After an ugly 1-7 start, this streak, though, holds some noticeable triumph. The streak required the entire team to avoid pressures of expectation and, instead, start settling into their own individual comforts. Finding comfort in his own ability and belief in his own “nastiness” has ben integral in Manaea building himself back up after a tough 2020.
The confidence has been evident in Manaea’s last three starts, including his seven-inning shutout performance on Tuesday in Game 1 of the doubleheader. With his fastball velocity up to 93mph, a few ticks up from last season, Manaea worked his fastball — better glove-side, this time — and an effective changeup through the Twins lineup for seven strikeouts and six hits. It was Manaea’s second career shutout. His previous was his 2018 no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox.
“As much as I want to be a guy throwing 100, that’s not me. I have to utilize what I have and what I bring to the table and it’s kind of freeing in a way. Just accepting who I am as a pitcher and utilizing what I have as a pitcher. And what I have is pretty good when I throw my stuff for strikes.”
The Game 1 win came with a huge boost from Matt Olson’s grand slam and a two home run game from Mitch Moreland.
Luzardo and Manaea’s performances on Tuesday are in trend with the A’s rotation’s overall improvement over this 10-game streak. After compiling one of the league’s worst ERAs through the first eight games, the A’s pitching staff has a .44 ERA through their last five games. An accomplishment against a Twins team riddled with sluggers.
“That’s what gives us our confidence going out,” manager Bob Melvin said. “With that lineup and all the right-handed hitters they had to navigate through and both of them did really well.”
For Luzardo, getting back to his old self extended beyond routines and get-ups. Not only was Luzardo was throwing his fastball with conviction to get ahead of counts, but he was doing it consistently multiple times through the order. He was hurling 99mph fastballs in the first inning, then simmered down to his typical 97mph fastball and cruised through the Twins lineup a second time through.
“i was getting ahead, attacking guys early in the game,” Luzardo said. “Showing my fastball and later on started mixing it up. And all my pitches were there so that really helped me out.”
The A’s couldn’t give much of a cushion for Luzardo, getting their single run on the board off Jose Berrios in the fourth inning when Matt Olson doubled the other way, Matt Chapman advanced him to third and Seth Brown singled him home. The lighting delay interrupted the Twins’ strongest push to get a game-tying run across.
The game was in delay for 25 minutes. But since the lights weren’t out over the mound and the plate, all parties decided to move forward with the game with the outfield lights still out, Melvin said.
Jorge Polanco knocked a curveball for a single before both teams left the field. When they returned with half the lights shining on the outfield, Luzardo struck out Brent Rooker swinging at a changeup and second baseman Vimael Machin traveled into shallow right field to rob Willians Astudillo of a bloop single to end the inning.
Luzardo didn’t issue a walk until Luis Arraez took a free bag to lead off the sixth inning. He struck out Ryan Jeffers on a 96mph fastball down the pike. With his velocity slowed a little bit after the delay, Melvin played it safe and tapped Lou Trivino to finish the sixth inning off despite Luzardo only completing 65 pitches.
Arraez moved to third base on a pair of passed balls, but Trivino struck out Mitch Garver and Josh Donaldson to end the inning. Though Trivino has been the go-to closer for Melvin, Jake Deikman came in for the save on Tuesday.
“I wanted Diekman to be able to start his own inning,” Melvin said. “So this lineup is going to be tough on left-handed pitching even though left-handers had a really good day today. With a guy on base, Lou can get you a ground ball with a sinker.”
Diekman hit Nelson Cruz with a pitch to lead off, but struck out two batters. Mark Canha preserved the slim lead saved by a catch at the wall by Mark Canha to end the long, baseball-filled, half-lit day.
“I’m just glad it wasn’t too dark for Mark to catch that ball and end the game there,” Melvin said.