Clutch hitting by Lewis, Jeffers lift Twins over Astros in 10 innings

Tribune Content Agency

HOUSTON — Royce Lewis felt it coming. Well, sort of — he didn’t make it clear if he meant the three-run home run or the game-saving, two-out, ninth-inning hit.

“It feels so surreal, right? I think something special is going to happen tonight,” the former No. 1 overall pick said shortly before taking the field on the one-year anniversary of the last Twins game he played. “I couldn’t tell you what, but it just feels like it’s kind of that time.”

It was and — after an encouraging, uplifting 7-5 win in 10 innings — the Twins hope it is from now on.

Ryan Jeffers smashed the hardest-hit ball of his career and the hardest-hit by any Twin in two years, a 117.4-mph screamer, into the Crawford boxes in left field to lead off the 10th inning, helping the Twins snap their streak of six straight losses in series-opening games.

And while Jeffers won’t forget his first three-hit game of the season or extra-inning home run of his career, and Sonny Gray can be proud of dominating the defending world champions for six solid innings, and Jhoan Duran can enjoy earning a two-inning win, the day belonged to the rookie who had spent 365 days of torturous knee-surgery rehab getting ready for it.

Lewis lifted an opposite-field, three-run homer just past the right-field foul pole in the third inning of his 2023 debut. But when the Twins couldn’t make that margin stand up, Lewis smacked a clutch game-tying single in the ninth to snap closer Ryan Pressly’s streak of 22 consecutive converted saves.

“He’s put in so much work to get back here, I’m just happy for him,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “When a guy goes through what he’s gone through and you see all that come together on a day like this, it makes you happy.”

Baldelli said that before Lewis’ heroics, too. Imagine how happy he was afterward.

About the only disappointment in the Twins’ victory, their first in Houston since 2021, was the fact that Jose Altuve kept Gray, all but spotless through six innings, from collecting his first career win here.

Gray needed only 68 pitches to get through six innings, and allowed only an unearned run to that point, one that was set up by Joey Gallo’s two-base error and scored on Kyle Tucker’s double-play grounder. But in the seventh, with the Twins leading 4-1, Tucker led off with a double into the left-field corner and José Abreu drew a five-pitch walk. Baldelli chose to relieve Gray after 79 pitches, and bring in Stewart, who had yet to allow a run all season.

The righthander struck out Jake Meyers, but Mauricio Dubón singled to load the bases.

Not a problem, right? Stewart hadn’t allowed a bases-loaded hit since 2016, and when Martin Maldonado quickly struck out, hitters were 0-for-8 against him this season with bases loaded.

But Jose Altuve changed all that. The former MVP watched three pitches go by, two of them strikes. When Stewart’s fourth pitch was an identical 98.7-mph fastball in nearly the exact spot as the third pitch, Altuve swung — and hit a hot line drive that left fielder Joey Gallo could only watch sail over his head and into the seats.

Not to worry, though. The Twins’ rookie savior was just getting started. Kyle Farmer hit a one-out single off Pressly, the former Twin who was 10-for-10 on saves this season, and Alex Kirilloff drew a two-out walk to move Farmer to second.

Lewis took a called strike, then reached out at a 90-mph slider just off the plate and poked it up the middle. Farmer scored, and the Twins’ dugout erupted.