Lewis’ 2 HRs put ‘win’ in Twins; slide ends at 18

MINNEAPOLIS — Royce Lewis smashed Minnesota’s 18-game postseason losing streak into the seats, homering in each of his first two at-bats to carry the Twins to a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of their American League Wild Card Series on Tuesday.

Lewis hit a two-run shot off Kevin Gausman in the first inning and a leadoff drive in the third, sending the home dugout and the sellout Target Field crowd into a frenzy.

“It means a lot, and it means a lot that the fans encouraged us,” Lewis told ESPN during his on-field interview. “They had that energy for us. They brought it, and we brought it for them.”

The bigger celebration occurred a few hours later when Jhoan Duran pitched a hitless ninth to close out the first victory in the playoffs for the Twins since Oct. 5, 2004. They had the longest postseason losing streak in major North American professional sports. It was the first home playoff win for the Twins since Game 1 of the AL Championship Series in 2002 at the Metrodome.

Lewis was a 3-year-old then. He’s the type of big-time player — with five grand slams in 70 career games — who could lead the Twins on an actual postseason run instead of just hanging a division title banner and leaving the party after three or four days.

Returning from a left hamstring strain that kept him out for the past two weeks, Lewis became the third player in MLB history to hit home runs in each of his first two career postseason plate appearances, following Evan Longoria for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008 and Gary Gaetti for the Twins in 1987.

Pablo Lopez also delivered a strong playoff debut for Minnesota, permitting one run and five hits in 5⅔ innings. He wore a Johan Santana jersey to the ballpark, a nod to not only his Venezuelan boyhood hero but the last Twins pitcher to win a postseason game.

Gausman’s day for the Blue Jays was bumpier, finishing four innings with three hits and three walks. The right-hander frequently asked for a new ball early in his outing and had trouble at one point with the wireless PitchCom device that is used to prevent sign stealing. Gausman had only one start shorter than this in 2023, when he logged 3⅓ innings on May 4.

The teams will meet again Wednesday afternoon in Game 2 of the best-of-three series (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Game 3 would be Thursday, with the entire series in Minnesota under MLB’s postseason format.

The Blue Jays finally got on the board when Kevin Kiermaier‘s two-out single drove in Bo Bichette in the sixth, but they left nine runners on base.

The Jays carried their own October angst into this series, having not won a postseason game since the 2016 ALCS. They took two-game sweeps as wild cards in 2020 and 2022, and Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — two franchise cornerstones and the celebrated sons of former major leaguers — have not yet won a postseason game.

Glove work

Lopez and his four relievers got plenty of defensive help. Michael Taylor made a diving catch of a sharp line drive to center by Alejandro Kirk in the second and a leaping grab at the wall to take an extra-base hit away from a fuming Matt Chapman in the sixth.

Max Kepler crashed against the same padding to catch Guerrero’s long fly ball in the fourth.

The most vital play of all was later in that inning, when Kiermaier’s two-out roller eluded third baseman Jorge Polanco as Bichette rounded for home with two outs. Carlos Correa backed him up from shortstop and threw a strike to the plate to get Bichette and end the inning.

Swing-and-miss

The Gausman-Lopez matchup marked the first time that the top two strikeout pitchers during the regular season in one league faced each other in the playoffs since Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia in Game 1 of the Detroit TigersNew York Yankees AL Division Series in 2011.

Up next

Blue Jays: RHP Jose Berrios (11-12, 3.65 ERA) will start Game 2 against the team he pitched 5½ seasons for until a trade to Toronto on July 30, 2021. He made postseason starts for the Twins in 2019 and 2020. “I love pitching in this ballpark because the dugout is so close, so I look like I throw 100,” Berrios said.

Twins: RHP Sonny Gray (8-8, 2.79 ERA) will take the mound on Wednesday in the first postseason start for the 11-year veteran since 2017 in Game 4 of the ALDS for the Yankees.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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