HOUSTON – Ryan Jeffers contemplated Royce Lewis' magical welcome-back home run Monday, and like any good teammate, offered some advice.
"He's got to get in the weight room," Jeffers deadpanned, then laughed.
Yes, Lewis' are-you-kidding home run will be long remembered, but it was struck with only 99.4 miles per hour of velocity and traveled only 336 feet into the corner. Jeffers' 10th-inning game-winner, however?
MLB's exit-velocity measurements, which go back to 2008, have never recorded a harder-hit ball hit by a Twins player. StatCast said it blasted into the Crawford boxes in left field at 117.4 mph, the hardest-hit ball of Jeffers' career and the fifth hardest in the major leagues this season. Only Miguel Sano and Nelson Cruz have ever registered 117 mph in a Twins uniform, both while hitting singles.
"It felt really good," Jeffers said of his first-pitch swing at a Bryan Abreu slider, sending his team to a 7-5 victory over the Astros. "I wasn't sure if I hit it high enough to get it out, but I did. It felt great."
It might have endangered some of the 40,744 paying customers, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli mused.
"That was just an absolute screamer," Baldelli said. "You almost watch out for the people in the stands, because it can get dangerous out there when he hits the ball like that."
Jeffers also smacked a pair of first-pitch singles during the game, his first three-hit game of the season.
Turn of events
Sonny Gray has never won a game in Houston, a streak that he appeared about to end Monday — until he was lifted in the seventh inning. Gray, unhappy with his command in his past three starts, focused on keeping the ball in the strike zone and getting quick outs this time, and he did it well, holding the Astros to three hits and an unearned run through six innings.
He did it with only 68 pitches, too, and was only at 79 after Kyle Tucker's leadoff double and a walk to José Abreu that was abetted by a couple of balls that StatCast judged to be strikes.
"But knowing that I had three righties coming up, [the Astros'] 7-8-9 [hitters], and I had been getting ground balls all day, I felt very confident in getting them," Gray said. "I felt great. So yeah, to be honest, I was a little surprised" to be taken out right there.
Baldelli went to Brock Stewart, who had yet to give up 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 2017 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.
"I thought Brock threw the ball good, to be honest," Baldelli said. "He threw one pitch where he didn't want to throw it, to a good hitter. Overall, Brock looked like himself."
• Willi Castro turned a sure out into the Twins' fourth run with a reaching slide under the glove of catcher Maldonado, who had already received the ball with the Twins utility player approaching the plate in the fourth inning. "He's run the bases so well. We're winning games because of some of the things that he's doing, getting an inch or two here and there," Baldelli said of Castro. "That was a good send by Tommy [Watkins]. They kind of gauged it up, and we had the right player to make it happen."
• Alex Kirilloff, who spent much of 2022 rehabbing from a recurring injury alongside Royce Lewis, on his friend's return to the majors: "I'm just super happy for him. I know at least a little bit of what he's gone through, and I know the work that went behind it to get back to this point. I would say I'm really proud of him."