When the left-field light tower switched off at the Oakland Coliseum in the top of the fifth inning on Tuesday night, José Berríos retreated to a corner of the visitors’ dugout, where Hansel Robles and Jorge Polanco entreated their teammates to stay positive throughout all the recent turmoil -- the positive COVID tests, the lack of offense, even an unusual light outage delay -- with a spirited rendition of a faith song.
All that must have sparked something in Berríos, who waited out the delay and tossed his cleanest inning of the night once play resumed. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the Twins’ offense.
Berríos dealt with high pitch counts and traffic throughout his outing, but he persevered through all the uncertainty of the week with five strikeouts in five strong innings. But once again, Minnesota’s bats seemed to feel the power outage at the Oakland Coliseum, too, as the Twins were shut out in both halves of Tuesday’s doubleheader, culminating in a 1-0 loss in the nightcap.
The Twins have dropped eight of their last nine games, and, coupled with a 7-0 loss in a complete-game outing by Sean Manaea, the Twins were shut out in both games of a doubleheader for the first time since May 21, 1961, when they dropped a pair of nine-inning contests to Cleveland.
“We have an excellent team here,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We’re in a little bit of a rut. We’re not playing so hot, but that doesn’t mean anything about what’s to come tomorrow. It actually has no bearing on it whatsoever, and we can turn this thing around any day.”
Berríos wasn’t getting the swings-and-misses or chases that he normally does with his offspeed stuff -- only three with the curveball and none with the changeup -- but he made timely pitches and got plenty of help from his defense as he navigated a patient Oakland lineup and upped his season strikeout total to a team-leading 30 in 21 innings.
He kept pace with a dominant Jesús Luzardo by inducing a rare 3-5-1 double play in the first inning -- started by fill-in first baseman Mitch Garver -- and also got a dazzling play in the fourth from interim left fielder Luis Arraez, who dove for a sinking line drive off the bat of Elvis Andrus that carried an expected batting average of .800, per Statcast. Arraez shot to his feet and made a strong throw to double the runner off second, ending Oakland’s only run-scoring rally.
“If they don't chase, I don't want to throw a get-me-over pitch or nice and easy pitches,” Berríos said. “Just keep pitching my way and try to make outs."
Still, that rally capped by Seth Brown’s two-out RBI single off Berríos was enough because the Twins’ bats couldn’t get anything going throughout Tuesday’s twin bill, coming off a three-day delay due to multiple positive COVID-19 tests.
It’ll be even tougher for the Twins’ bats to dig themselves out considering they’re without Max Kepler, Andrelton Simmons and Kyle Garlick after all three tested positive for the virus. Tuesday’s games made things worse, as Miguel Sanó was pulled from the first game with tightness in his right hamstring and Nelson Cruz was hit by a pitch in his right heel in the seventh inning of the nightcap.
The Twins won’t make excuses, but the fact remains that their last week has involved four positive COVID-19 tests, two false positives, several postponements and they could only prepare for this series by playing catch at a park in front of their hotel in the Anaheim area.
“At this point, after a few days off, could that have also played a part in it? Not having swung a bat in a few days, very well could be,” Baldelli said. “But the thing that we have to do is have a plan going forward.”
The song that Polanco, Robles, Berríos, Arraez and Willians Astudillo were singing during the delay, by the way, was called “Un Grano de Mostaza” (“A Grain of Mustard”), referring to a biblical story about how even a tiny bit of faith can move mountains.
“We are talking about how we have to keep things positive and have faith in us and believe in each other, every person in this clubhouse,” Berríos said.