'He was born for this': Royce homers in first two postseason ABs

October 4th, 2023

MINNEAPOLIS -- October, meet .

The rookie with a flair for the biggest moments continued building his already expansive Twins legacy by homering in the first two postseason plate appearances of his career -- and leaving his teammates and coaches struggling to find the words to describe it all.

Lewis’ two-run blast in the first inning and a solo shot in the third off Toronto ace Kevin Gausman accounted for all of Minnesota’s scoring in a streak-busting 3-1 victory in Game 1 of the American League Wild Card Series at Target Field, putting the Twins on the cusp of their first playoff series victory since 2002.

“I've tried to stretch my vocabulary and drop all the great adjectives,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I can't believe, sometimes, the things that he's doing. They're that impressive.”

“Thank God he’s on our team,” Ryan Jeffers said. “He just keeps doing more and more things that you just can’t really find words to describe it. We’ve got a lot more games to win this October, and I’m sure he’ll be a big part of all those.”

If it seems like Lewis’ inspired run through 2023 somehow feels tinged by magic, here’s some more for you:

Lewis is the second Twins player to hit multiple homers in a postseason game, joining Gary Gaetti in Game 1 of the 1987 ALCS. He’s also the second rookie in club history to go deep in the playoffs, joining Scott Leius, who homered in Game 2 of the 1991 World Series. Lewis also joined Gaetti and Evan Longoria (2008) as the only players in AL/NL history to homer in their first two postseason plate appearances.

Twins fans know all too well the significance of those two years: 1987 and ‘91 -- those are the only two years in club history in which Minnesota has won the World Series.

“That's a God thing,” Lewis said. “I'm just blessed to be a part of it. I mean, it felt like I was blacked out in the whole game, but especially in those moments when I was on the field. My heart was racing. It was just the human nature of it.”

Every time the electric rookie gets knocked down, Lewis seemingly comes back stronger than ever -- and this was no different. Even 24 hours before first pitch, Lewis and the Twins had expressed uncertainty about his availability for this series at all as he recovered from a left hamstring injury, but Lewis ultimately made the roster in a DH-only role.

Lewis doesn’t need to run hard if he just hits the ball over the fence, anyway.

He didn’t take the opportunity for granted. Before that homer in his first plate appearance, he stepped back from the batter’s box and just looked around at the sea of roaring fans, crimson Homer Hankies waving in the air.

“Just take it all in,” Lewis said. “You never know when you're going to be in this situation. We had a heck of a season, and I just wanted to take it all in. These fans showed up for us. I got that advice from Joe Mauer through a text today.”

At 24 years, 120 days old, Lewis is the youngest player to homer for the Twins in the postseason since the franchise relocated to Minnesota in 1961. He’s the 10th rookie with a multihomer game in the playoffs, and also the 10th to go deep multiple times in his first career postseason game, finishing his game 2-for-3 with two homers, a walk and a groundout.

And Lewis is, of course, no stranger to historic blasts.

He most notably set a record with four grand slams in a 20-game span this season, most in club history -- which, in hindsight, might well have served as a preview of the postseason heroics to come. Lewis lives for these big moments, having posted a 1.232 OPS in his career with runners in scoring position entering these playoffs.

“He was born for this, I think,” Jorge Polanco said. “He’s very special to see in those moments. He doesn’t shy away from those moments. He loves it and we love to see him in those moments.”

Lewis was so hot at the plate in September -- slashing .313/.410/.612 with six homers and 23 RBIs -- that he was named the AL Rookie of the Month despite having appeared in only 18 games in the season’s final month.

“Royce is the spark plug of this team,” Kyle Farmer said before Game 1. “AL Rookie of the Month in September with six home runs. That shows how well our September went with him in the lineup. He kind of carried the offense.”

Lewis, a one-time No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, lost his 2020 Minor League season to the COVID-19 pandemic, then lost the majority of his ‘21 and ‘22 campaigns to consecutive torn ACLs. The Twins had no expectations of his ability to be an immediate MLB contributor -- but Lewis made it worth the wait with a .309/.372/.548 regular season.

Twins fans have waited since 2004 for their postseason hero. Could Lewis finally be the one?

“He’s a special player, and he’s showing it,” Caleb Thielbar said. “He’s out there on one leg hitting two homers in a game. What else can you say about the guy?”