Lewis does what he does, homers in return to lineup

June 5th, 2024

NEW YORK -- Of course did it again. Of course he did.

As frustrating as all these early career injuries have been for Lewis, he has at least taken those opportunities to establish a reputation for dramatic entrances -- to the point where even manager Rocco Baldelli was predicting in the past few weeks that Lewis would go deep in his return from the IL on Tuesday, because that’s just what Lewis does.

That reputation isn’t going away.

While the majority of the Twins’ lineup floundered against Yankees rookie phenom Luis Gil, Lewis added to his growing portfolio of impact first games off the IL by going deep in the seventh, walking twice and even adding a highlight-reel diving play on defense at third base as part of the Twins’ 5-1 loss at Yankee Stadium.

“I think I've raised the bar of the expectations, but we've got to normalize those a little bit more,” Lewis said. “I just go out there and have as much fun as I can. I think today was a good example of how much I miss the game.”

Who could forget how he returned from his second torn ACL on May 29, 2023, with a homer and four RBIs in his first game back, or his two-homer performance in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series last October in his return from a hamstring strain just in time for the playoffs? And that’s not even mentioning his record-breaking penchant for grand slams.

And now, this.

The blast off reliever Tommy Kahnle in the seventh traveled a Statcast-projected 428 feet on a sinker in on his hands. The diving play in the fourth robbed Gleyber Torres of an infield hit after Lewis ranged far to his right on a dive, darted to his feet, spun and made a strong throw across the diamond, with the safe call overturned into an out by a replay review.

“What he does when he returns from long breaks is really nothing short of remarkable,” Baldelli said. “We lost the game today, so it’s hard to start gushing about things, but I’ve never heard of or seen anyone do what he did today.”

Lewis still hasn’t made an out in five plate appearances this season, including the homer and single on Opening Day before he badly strained his quad while running the bases. It’s tough to temper the expectations when he’s never making an out.

“You know, I went 0-for-like-19 down in Triple-A [on rehab],” Lewis said. “I got out a lot.”

(He went 4-for-23, evidently saving his hits for the Majors.)

But this sort of impact is exactly why the Twins were so mortified when Lewis stole a base in his first rehab game for Triple-A St. Paul on May 25, coming off a nearly two-month recovery following that quad strain.

The Twins’ offense has been up and down this season, accounting for much of the club’s streakiness. Lewis’ performance on Tuesday showed how he can be a stabilizing force, even when nobody else was hitting, with the rest of the Minnesota lineup combining for one hit.

Now that the Twins finally have him back, they just don’t want to lose him again -- and that’s what Byron Buxton was thinking when he watched Lewis steal that base in Triple-A from afar.

“I saw myself [in him], and I was like, ‘Oh, now I see what y'all were feeling when I went to rehab and I hit a triple the first game,’” Buxton said. “You know what I mean? I never felt what they'd felt [about me] until I saw him do it and it was like, ‘Ohhhhh.’ It put it in perspective.”

The Twins more than treaded water in the absence of Lewis, the electric cornerstone of their lineup. They’re 33-27 -- ahead of their 60-game pace from their AL Central-winning 2023 campaign -- and while their offense has been very streaky at times, they’re averaging a decent 4.35 runs per game.

But now, they have their cornerstone back.

“When you love this game as much as I do, because I believe no one loves it more than I do, it’s a blessing to be here,” Lewis said. “I couldn’t imagine another day without it. Any day I’m here, it’s always the best day ever.”

The Twins would love for him to slow down a bit -- but good luck with that.

“Royce is going to play like Royce,” Lewis said. “I’m really excited about that.”