Twins top Guardians,12-8, to open weekend series
MINNEAPOLIS — The emotion was the most captivating thing about Royce Lewis' first career home run. But not just Lewis'.
The Twins' top prospect practically leapt at Bryan Shaw's middle-of-the-plate cutter on Friday and launched it five rows deep into the left-field bleachers, a fifth-inning grand slam that capped the Twins' biggest inning at Target Field in almost five years, and eventually their 12-8 slump-snapping victory over the Guardians.
Lewis circled the bases as the announced crowd of 18,711 roared, then accepted the congratulations of teammates Nick Gordon, Ryan Jeffers and Gio Urshela, who had crossed the plate in front of him. But it's when he reached the dugout that it became evident how joyous the moment was to his teammates, and especially those Twins prospects who had climbed their way to Target Field with him.
Carlos Correa, whose finger injury triggered the start of Lewis' major league career exactly one week earlier, waited on the top step to greet him. Lewis ran the gantlet of high-fives in the dugout, then did a short celebration dance with Alex Kirilloff. He turned and found Jeffers ready with a bear hug of congrats. Same with Gordon, a fellow former first-round pick.
Lewis' home run, the climax to the Twins' nine-run inning, was one of four they bashed in ending their three-game losing streak, but it felt like the most momentous. The overall No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft has made a solid first impression, subbing skillfully for Correa at shortstop while also peppering opposing pitchers with 10 hits in a week, a .320 welcome-to-the-majors batting average.
And now he's showing off his power, too. Lewis started the big inning with a double to center field, scored on Max Kepler's single, and strode to the plate with the bases loaded a few batters later. In crushing Shaw's pitch — making him the 10th Twin to reach base in an 11-batter stretch — Lewis became the first Twin to smack a grand slam as his first career home run since Danny Valencia off Zack Grienke in Kansas City on July 26, 2010.
Byron Buxton led off the game with a home run, too, ending the Twins' 37-inning streak without one. Jorge Polanco followed two batters later, and Gary Sanchez, who had not homered since April 10, preceded Lewis' homer with a blast of his own to straightaway center field, a three-run shot, to welcome Shaw into the game.
The Guardians right-hander faced five batters in relief of Aaron Civale and all of them reached base and scored, ballooning his ERA from 1.69 to 5.91 in one horrific outing. Cleveland interim manager Carl Willis, filling in this weekend for COVID-stricken Terry Francona, summoned Eli Morgan to end the carnage, but only after the Twins had posted their first nine-run inning at Target Field since Bartolo Colon pitched the Twins to victory against Arizona on Aug. 20, 2017.
Minnesota's last nine-run inning came almost exactly one year earlier and against the same opponent — at Cleveland on May 21, 2021.
The Guardians fought back, with Austin Hedges homering off Sonny Gray, Oscar Mercado doing the same against Griffin Jax and Anders Gimenez hitting a two-run homer in the ninth inning off Emilio Pagan. But the relief was palpable at Target Field, where the Twins scored only three total runs in their previous three games, a sweep by the Astros.