Tyler Wells spent the first five years of his professional baseball career envisioning himself as a Twins pitcher.
Yet when he took to the Target Field mound Sunday, it was to lead the Orioles to a 3-1 victory. Baltimore is the only team Wells has ever known in his two major league seasons, after the Twins lost him in the 2020 Rule 5 draft.
"It's cool because this is where I thought I'd be, and obviously, I'm not," Wells said. "… I think the fun part about it is playing against the guys that I came up with. … I have a lot of really strong feelings for those guys. I care about them a lot."
Twins starter Devin Smeltzer wouldn't exactly call it a good time facing off against his former Class AA teammate. While Wells (7-4) held the Twins hitless until the fifth inning and achieved a career-high seven strikeouts through his six innings, Smeltzer (4-2) surrendered the three solo home runs — including back-to-back ones from Trey Mancini and Ryan Mountcastle in the sixth — that granted the Orioles the victory.
Smeltzer gave up six hits and a walk with just three strikeouts in his six-inning outing. Wells gave up only three hits and one walk, with the Twins' lone run coming on an RBI single from Jorge Polanco in the sixth.
"I'm happy for him. I don't love seeing it against us," Smeltzer said. "I'd love to see him get mashed around, just from the competitive aspect."
If there is any consolation for Smeltzer, it's that the Twins are still 45-37 and two games ahead in the AL Central. Wells' Orioles are 36-44 in last place in the AL East.
Sunday actually marked the first game of the second half of the season for the Twins. Should they perform as they have in the first 81 games, they are on track for a 90-win season and a postseason berth.
Smeltzer said what stuck out to him the most about the Twins' first half was the team's ability to cover its losses. Smeltzer himself cracked the starting rotation as a fill-in for injured pitchers. Gilberto Celestino made two strong plays in center field Sunday, making up for a first-inning drop. He sprinted to the wall for a stretching catch in the third inning and lobbed a long throw to catcher Gary Sanchez in the fourth inning to retire Anthony Santander trying to score from second.
Celestino has held down center several times this season, with Byron Buxton often sitting out games — as he did Sunday — to manage his right knee tendinitis.
This series was also the first one since 2018 without pitching coach Wes Johnson at the helm. He left for a job at LSU, and the Twins promoted bullpen coach Pete Maki to the position. Colby Suggs is now in Maki's spot, and the bullpen gave up just one run in the three games against Baltimore, a stark change from blowing several recent games against Cleveland. And they did it without using their best arms, Jhoan Duran and Griffin Jax.
The Twins orchestrated walkoff victories after trailing late Friday and Saturday and had a chance to win Sunday. They now head off on a road trip to face the White Sox and Rangers with a fresh pen and motivation to finish the season as strong as it has started.
"Honestly, I couldn't be more happy with what I've seen overall from our team in the first half," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "In the face of losing most of our group for long stretches of time, we came out and competed very well, made no excuses, played hard and won some games.
"If we take care of our business the same way in the second half, I'll be pleased as well."