HOUSTON (AP) — A year ago Monday, Royce Lewis tore the ACL in his right knee for a second time.
On the first anniversary of the injury, the rookie returned to the field in a season debut more suited for a fairy tale than a baseball diamond.
“A year to the day,” he said beaming. “You just can’t make this stuff up.”
Lewis homered with four RBIs and Ryan Jeffers hit a two-run shot in the 10th inning to give the Minnesota Twins a 7-5 win over the Houston Astros.
Last May 29th, Lewis was injured when he crashed into an outfield wall while making a catch in his first big league appearance in center field. The first overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft had reconstructive surgery a few days later, ending his first major league season after just 12 games.
It was the second time in two years that he sustained the same injury after tearing the ACL for the first time in Febuary 2021. Lewis was drafted as a shortstop but will play third base for now with fellow top pick Carlos Correa entrenched at shortstop.
During months of grueling rehabilitation, there were many low times when Lewis wondered why these setbacks kept happening.
“All the time,” he said. “I mean, you’re human, right?”
But on Monday all that pain seemed miles away when he returned to the lineup.
“I loved it,” he said. “I loved every bit of it.”
Max Kepler started the 10th as the automatic runner on second base before Jeffers drove the first pitch from Bryan Abreu (2-1) into the seats in left field for his third hit and a 7-5 lead.
Lewis gave the Minnesota an early lead with a three-run homer in the third. The Astros went ahead 5-4 when Jose Altuve hit a grand slam in the seventh.
But Lewis came through again late, tying it with an RBI single off Ryan Pressly with two outs in the ninth, the closer’s first blown save in 11 chances this year.
“That’s the first time in a long time,” manager Dusty Baker said. “You know it’s bound to happen but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.”
Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli raved about the game by Lewis and noted he also made some nice defensive plays.
“What a day,” Baldelli said. “What a day for him.”
Sonny Gray, who started the game where Lewis was injured, also started Monday’s game.
“I’m getting chills because (I was) back on the mound too when he came back,” Gray said as goosebumps covered his arms. “It was a welcome sight when we got on the airplane yesterday and he was there smiling, just being Royce. And then for him to come out today and do that — he’s a special kid.”
Lewis couldn’t stop smiling after the game, and remained in uniform with eye black still on his face long after it had ended as he reveled in his triumphant comeback. But the 23-year-old’s grin seemed to get even bigger when talking about the excitement his teammates had in witnessing his return.
“I truly love these guys,” he said. “It’s like a second family. So it means the world to me that they accept me and they want me here and we have fun together.”
Jhoan Duran (1-1) pitched a scoreless ninth to send it to the 10th. He returned for the 10th and sat down Altuve, Jeremy Peña and Yordan Alvarez to end it.
The Twins were up by 3 when Gray was lifted after giving up a double to Kyle Tucker and walking José Abreu starting the seventh. Brock Stewart allowed a one-out single to Mauricio Dubón that loaded the bases. With two out, Altuve sent a fastball from Stewart to left field to put Houston on top 5-4.
It was the second straight game with a homer for Altuve, who has played just eight games this season, missing the start after breaking his right thumb in the World Baseball Classic. His first home run of the season came in Houston’s 10-1 win over Oakland on Sunday where the Astros tied a franchise record with seven.
Altuve’s slam ruined another good performance by Gray, who yielded four hits and three runs — two earned — in six-plus innings for his fifth straight start without factoring in the decision. He leads the majors with a 1.94 ERA.
There were two outs in the third inning when J.P. France walked Correa. Kirilloff singled to left field before Lewis launched an opposite field shot just over the low wall in right field to put the Twins up 3-0.
Michael A. Taylor drove in a run with a single in the fourth that made it 4-0.
Alvarez reached and took second on an error by Joey Gallo with no outs in the bottom of the inning. A single by Alex Bregman sent him to third and he scored when Tucker grounded into a double play to cut the lead to 4-1.
France allowed seven hits and four runs while tying a career high with eight strikeouts in six innings.
Houston RHP Brandon Bielak (1-2, 3.55) opposes RHP Joe Ryan (7-1, 2.21) when the series continues Tuesday night.