MINNEAPOLIS — Royce Lewis hit a grand slam for his first big league homer, capping a nine-run fifth inning that sent the Minnesota Twins past the coronavirus-struck Cleveland Guardians 12-8 Friday night.
Byron Buxton, Jorge Polanco and Gary Sánchez also homered for Minnesota. The barrage came after Minnesota was shut out in two of its three games against Houston.
“It came down to the good at-bats that we crave. We had one after another,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It was kind of a breakthrough where we actually created that really great separation that we're always after.”
The Guardians returned after having a game Wednesday at the Chicago White Sox called off — that was the first COVID-19-related postponement in the majors this season.
Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis ran the team in place of manager Terry Francona, who entered MLB's health and safety protocols this week. First base coach Sandy Alomar, third base coach Mike Sarbaugh, bench coach DeMarlo Hale, assistant pitching coach Joe Torres and hitting analyst Justin Toole also are out.
Earlier Friday, Cleveland outfielder Josh Naylor was put on the COVID-19-related injured list.
“We just want to be accountable to each other and go out and pick each other up and play the game the right way,” Willis said. “I think they're in a good frame of mind.”
Lewis, the Twins’ top prospect who debuted earlier this season, batted twice in the fifth. After doubling in his first trip to the plate in the inning, Lewis cleared the bases with a grand slam off reliever Bryan Shaw.
The 22-year-old shortstop received a curtain call from Twins fans, stepping out of the dugout to tip his cap after his memorable homer.
“I think it was pretty much everything I could've imagined and more,” Lewis said. “I really appreciate it. This fan base has been always really, really special to me and have always been great to me. Minnesota nice.”
Lewis didn't play at all in 2020 or 2021, missing all of last year due to a torn ACL in his right knee. He made his debut with the Twins on May 6th after Carlos Correa went on the Injured List.
Lewis now has hits in six of his first seven major league games.
“I'm just grateful for the opportunity to be here and have fun playing the game I love,” Lewis said.
Minnesota had gone four games without a home run, but got its first of the night in the first at-bat. Buxton connected off Aaron Civale (1-3) for a drive deep into the second deck in left field.
Polanco also hit a first-inning solo shot off Civale, who eventually settled down to retire 11 straight batters before Minnesota’s offense erupted.
Sánchez tagged Shaw for a three-run drive in the fifth to make it 7-2.
Twins starter Sonny Gray had mixed results in his outing. He struck out a season-high eight but also walked four in 4 1/3 innings, allowing two runs and four hits. He surrendered a solo homer to No. 9 batter Austin Hedges in the fifth.
“Not overly thrilled with how I threw the ball,” Gray said. “I think as a unit and as a whole staff in general, we do have to clean up the walks and giving teams free passes."
Griffin Jax (3-0) relieved Gray and got the win despite giving up four runs on four hits and three walks in 2 1/3 innings.
COVID IN THE CLUBHOUSE
Willis once pitched for the Twins.
“I told the players, we just want them to play it the right way,” Willis said before the game. “We’re not going to get in their way, but we’ll make decisions as we have to and we’ll go ahead and go forward.”
RHP Shane Bieber (1-2, 4.13 ERA) gets the start Saturday for Cleveland in the second game of the series as he looks to rebound from his worst outing of the year. Devin Smelter will be recalled from Triple-A St. Paul for his 2022 debut to start Saturday's game for the Twins, Baldelli said after Friday's game.