Lewis hits HR, game-tying single one year after injury: 'Can't make this stuff up'

May 30th, 2023

HOUSTON -- is relentlessly optimistic. Almost a little too much for his manager.

But in Lewis’ return from a second ACL surgery -- exactly a year to the day he suffered the tear in his right knee -- that positivity paid off. Lewis, who sensed “something special” was going to happen Monday, lined a three-run home run and added a two-out, game-tying RBI single before the Twins ultimately won, 7-5 in the 10th, thanks to Ryan Jeffers' two-run homer.

“It feels so surreal, right?” Lewis said before the game .”I think something special is going to happen tonight. I couldn’t tell you what, but it just feels like it’s kind of like that time.”

If anyone could have predicted this storybook return for Lewis, it would’ve been the uber-optimistic 23-year-old.

“A year to this day? You just can’t make this stuff up,” he said.

He eyed the series vs. Houston as far back as Spring Training for his debut. He compared the Twins’ cautious approach toward his rehab to parents telling their kid they can’t go to a party. And he may have slightly irked manager Rocco Baldelli along the process.

“I love Royce, but I can’t listen to probably a quarter -- maybe a third -- of what comes out of his mouth,” Baldelli said. “He’s telling me stuff that doesn’t even make any sense, that doesn’t go along with any sort of timeline that any doctor or medical professional is talking about. 

"He is relentlessly optimistic and positive, which, we'll take that. I love the kid, but when he starts talking about, ‘He’ll be ready here or there,’ I just kind of let him -- if he wants to think that, if that’s going to help him, that sounds good.”

So when Lewis came up for his first at-bat, with runners on first and second and two outs, he didn’t hesitate at all and swung at the first pitch, a hanging curveball -- “I just missed it” -- for a flyout to left field.

In his second at-bat (also with runners on first and second with two outs), Lewis was a tad more patient. He watched three 95 mph fastballs zip by for a 1-2 count. Then, when Houston starter J.P. France offered a fourth straight heater -- this one down the middle -- Lewis used his opposite-field power to muscle it down the right-field line and eke out a 336-foot shot.

“My first thought was, ‘Did it actually go over?’” Lewis said about his third career HR.

Then, thanks to Alex Kirilloff’s 2-for-2, 3 walk-game, Lewis came up again in the ninth, with -- you guessed it -- runners on first and second against Astros closer Ryan Pressly, who hadn’t blown a save in his past 28 opportunities.

It didn’t matter. Lewis, who said he was looking for a slider in a certain zone, poked a single to center to tie things up. And Jeffers followed in the 10th with what was the hardest Twins hit in the Statcast era at 117.4 mph.

“That was just an absolute screamer,” Baldelli said. “You almost [have to] watch out for the people in the stands because it can get dangerous out there when he hits the ball like that.”

Starter Sonny Gray tossed six efficient innings before being pulled in the seventh. Jose Altuve then launched his own screamer off Brock Stewart for a go-ahead grand slam.

But Gray said the story of the game was the Twins’ resilience and Lewis’ return.

“I was actually on the mound when [Lewis’ second ACL tear] happened last year,” Gray said. “I’m getting chills … to be back on the mound, too, while he comes back and for him to come out and just be Royce, it was a welcome sight. We got on the airplane yesterday, and he was there, smiling, just being Royce.”

“I think [Lewis is] still the future here in this organization,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “Obviously, the talent is unbelievable. The way he’s developed into a great hitter now, it’s really good to see. I think he’s going to be a key piece to what we’re building here. He’s here to stay.”