Rookie Royce Lewis blasted two home runs in a record-setting day as the Minnesota Twins defeated the visiting Toronto Blue Jays 3-1 to open their first game of the MLB postseason Tuesday afternoon at Target Field.
In the best-of-three wild-card game, Lewis, the Twins designated hitter, took Jays starting pitcher Kevin Gausman deep twice to help snap the team’s 18 game postseason losing streak.
The 2017 No. 1 overall pick was just the second rookie in Twins history to score in the postseason and the third player ever to hit two home runs in his first two postseason plate appearances.
“Take it all in, you never know when you’re going to be in this situation,” said Lewis post-game. “I got that advice from Joe Mauer through a text today, just telling me to take it in.”
Home run No. 1 came in the bottom of the first when, on a full count, Lewis smashed a fastball from Gausman 386 feet, scoring himself and second baseman Edouard Julien home for a 2-0 lead.
The second came in the third frame when Lewis took a fastball down the middle of the plate and sent it 397 feet to centre field.
“It felt like I was blacked out in the whole game, especially in those moments when I was on the field,” said Lewis. “My heart was racing, it was just the human nature of it, when you have 40-50 thousand people cheering it was special.
I was just going off of that energy and playing the game I’ve loved this whole life and had fun doing it.”
His second home run was also record breaking as it made him the second player in Twins history to hit two home runs in a postseason game. Gary Gaetti did it in 1987.
The 24 year old hit 15 homers in 58 games in the regular season, but had not played a game since Sept. 19.
Gausman had entered the series throwing 38 per cent of his pitches as splitters, something the Twins were privy to as their patience on the plate tested the Colorado natives mettle.
“Walking the leadoff hitter of the game is never how you want to start off,” said Gausman at the end of the game. “Too many pitches thrown, and too many deep counts, I made an adjustment in the third, but it was kind of too late at that point.”
Twins hitters were refusing to swing at split-finger throws from the right-hander.
“The goal is to eliminate my best pitch which is my split, so they had a really good plan against it,” said Gausman. “I knew what they were doing early on, but I couldn’t make the adjustment.”
Gausman was visibly frustrated in the first inning and could even be seen arguing with home plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
He finished the game striking out the last three batters he faced, pitched four innings, allowing three hits, and two home runs, while also getting five strikeouts along the way.
The Jays only run of the game came in the sixth inning when centre fielder Kevin Kiermaier singled on a line drive to left field that scored shortstop Bo Bichette to cut the lead to 3-1.
That run subsequently ended Minnesota starting pitcher Pablo Lopez’s day as he finished with five hits, one run, three strikeouts, and one standing ovation.
“You want to set the tone you want to set the stage,” said Lopez post-game. “Really let the competition know that we have a plan and try to do everything to execute it.”
The pitcher entered Target Field wearing a Johan Santana jersey, a former three-time all-star with the Twins, a nod to his childhood idol.
Game 2 will happen Wednesday at 4:38 p.m. ET in a win or go home situation for the Blue Jays.