CLEVELAND -- Eight games. Three grand slams. One division title perhaps inching ever closer.
This is Royce Lewis’ first playoff chase, with the former No. 1 overall pick finally having overcome two years’ worth of ACL injuries to unleash his talent on the league. It’s turned into one of the grandest first impressions the game has ever seen.
That’s because Lewis extended his surreal run of bases-loaded success with his third grand slam in a little more than a week to punctuate the Twins’ five-run second inning against the Guardians at Progressive Field on Monday. And then, the Twins kept adding, and adding, and adding, all the way to a 20-6 rout in the opener of what was expected to be a defining series for the American League Central.
Instead, the Twins removed any doubt early as they extended their divisional lead to six games with 24 to go and only two head-to-head matchups remaining. The Guardians have the advantage for the tiebreaker by leading the season series, 6-5.
• Games remaining: at CLE (2), vs. NYM (3), vs. TB (3), at CWS (4), vs. CIN (3), vs. LAA (3), vs. OAK (3), at COL (3)
• Standings update: The Twins hold a 6-game lead on the Guardians for the AL Central title. The Twins currently are the third-best division winner, meaning they would host a three-game WC series vs. the final WC entrant (currently TEX) starting on Oct. 3.
• Magic number: 19 (to clinch AL Central)
“Really, nothing [Lewis] can do at this point is surprising,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I mean, who hits four grand slams in less than a third of a season? … He’s proving to be a special young player, but he wants to continue to prove himself.”
Cleveland starter Lucas Giolito walked three batters in the second inning -- including one with the bases loaded -- to prime Lewis for another shot at glory. The right-hander fell behind again, 2-0, and served up a belt-high fastball on the inner half, and Lewis’ uppercut swing crushed the no-doubter a Statcast-projected 401 feet over the high wall in left field.
“This team’s amazing, that’s all,” Lewis said. “They put me in good situations. Rocco makes great lineups. Like I’ve said many times before, I’ve moved up and down -- and the situation seems to find me.”
Thus, the legend of Lewis in Minnesota continues to grow, as the slam served as the focal point of a 3-for-4 performance that featured a career-high six RBIs, including a two-run single in the sixth when he somehow came to the plate again with the bases loaded.
And no, there was no disappointment in missing another grand slam.
“That’s what I’m trying to do every time, is hit a line drive, because if you get under it and quote-unquote, miss, it ends up being a homer,” Lewis said with a smile.
Following Lewis’ earlier grand slam off Texas reliever Chris Stratton on Aug. 27 and another off Guardians starter Xzavion Curry a day later, Lewis is the first rookie in AL/NL history with three grand slams in a span of eight games or fewer, per the Elias Sports Bureau, and the fourth player overall, joining Larry Parrish (1982), Jim Northrup (‘68) and Lou Gehrig (‘31).
Lewis’ three grand slams this season also matched a Twins single-season record and tied him for second-most grand slams in a season by a rookie, trailing only Alexei Ramirez’s four slams in 2008.
The 24-year-old now has four grand slams among his first 13 career homers, meaning he needed the second-fewest homers in AL/NL history to reach four slams, behind only Chris Taylor, who hit four grand slams among his first 11 career long balls.
“I think he loves coming up with people on base,” Baldelli said. “I think you get the best out of him. … That’s a great trait to have, and we’ve seen this movie before with him, with this show before. He just keeps coming through.”
Lewis figures to be a fixture of the Minnesota-Cleveland rivalry for years to come -- and forgive the Guardians if they’re already sick of Lewis, considering three of these grand slams have come off Cleveland pitching. The first of Lewis’ grand slams, which was also his first career homer, came off then-Guardians reliever Bryan Shaw on May 13, 2022.
The charismatic rookie was already important to the clubhouse with his boundless energy and optimism -- to the point that the club kept his “waggling” celebration on the bases even when Lewis was missing with an oblique injury for a month and a half.
“If I had his energy, I'd be president by now,” Kyle Farmer said. “He's got the most energy on the team and he's a lot of fun to be around. He brings something to a locker room that you need, and that we needed. He's our guy that has it.”
Hitting grand slams every few days will do wonders for a team’s energy, too.