Of course Royce Lewis enjoyed his first career major league home run, a grand slam that capped an epic nine-run inning at Target Field on Friday night. But what was especially striking was how overjoyed everyone around the rookie shortstop was.
The announced crowd of 18,711 roared as Lewis rounded the bases, then demanded a curtain call from the dugout. Carlos Correa, whose finger injury triggered the start of Lewis' major league career exactly one week earlier, waited at the top of the stairs to greet him. And after Lewis ran the gantlet of high-fives in the dugout, he did a short celebration dance with Alex Kirilloff, then turned and found Ryan Jeffers ready with a bear hug of congrats, and Nick Gordon waiting for his turn, too.
"This is the moment we've all been dreaming about, you know?" Lewis beamed after the Twins finished off a slump-busting 12-8 victory over the Guardians. "Playing together on the big stage and having fun doing it. That's all I'm trying to do each and every day, and I know these guys are doing the same thing."
It's hard to do it better than the Twins' top prospect has done in his first week in the major leagues. The overall No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft has skillfully subbed for Correa at shortstop — despite an error on Friday — while also peppering opposing pitchers with 10 hits, three for extra bases, giving him a .320 welcome-to-the-majors batting average.
"He's certainly contributing to us winning games," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He's got a lot of ability, and he's put himself in a great position. There's not much more the young man can do."
There wasn't much that Guardians pitchers Aaron Civale and Bryan Shaw could do to stop him, or the Twins. Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Gary Sanchez all homered, and 10 Twins hitters, including seven in a row, reached base in the fifth inning. The nine runs scored were the most in one inning at Target Field in almost five years, since a Bartolo Colon victory over Arizona on Aug. 20, 2017.
They were also three times as many runs as the Twins scored in three games against the Astros this week.
"It came to the good at-bats we crave. We had one hit after the other. It was kind of a breakthrough," Baldelli said. "You don't have to play perfect baseball when you have an offensive outburst like that."
As the Twins proved. Sonny Gray battled his control for 4⅓ innings, walking four but also striking out eight, and Griffin Jax, after inducing a critical inning-ending double play that kept the game tied, surrendered four runs in 2⅓ innings after the game was out of reach.
But after the frustration of getting swept by the Astros, nobody was focused on the Guardians' three-homer, eight-run day. Not when there was an increasingly popular rookie to celebrate.
"It's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Baldelli, who deflected questions about what happens when Correa comes off the injured list. "You saw the guys rallying around him and enjoying it with him, and then the fans were really hot. They were giving [energy] to Royce, and Royce was able to give it back to them."
He did twice, sort of. The 22-year-old Lewis doubled at the start of the inning to help get things rolling, and scored on Max Kepler's RBI single. Two singles and a walk had loaded the bases by the time he came up again, and when Shaw left a cutter in the middle of the plate, Lewis practically leapt at it. He drove the ball 114 miles per hour into the left-field bleachers.
All that was left was the jubilation, which is getting awfully familiar to the rookie. He received standing ovations after his first hit and his first extra-base hit, too, so he looked mildly sheepish as he waved his helmet to the crowd.
"It's fun. I've got to keep living up to those expectations. I really appreciate it," Lewis said. "This fanbase has always been really, really special to me. They've always been great — Minnesota Nice."