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Royce Lewis, Pablo Lopez snap Twins’ playoff drought with Game 1 win over Blue Jays

Two historic Royce Lewis homers were all Minnesota needed to take a 1-0 lead over Toronto in their AL Wild Card series.

Royce Lewis of the Minnesota Twins celebrates after hitting a two run home run against Kevin Gausman of the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning in Game One of the Wild Card Series at Target Field on October 03, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

If the Minnesota Twins wind up making a deep run into October, chances are it’s going to look a lot like Tuesday’s Game 1 of their AL Wild Card series with the Toronto Blue Jays. Royce Lewis got Target Field jumping early, going yard in his first two postseason at-bats, and that was all the Twins’ dynamite pitching needed in a 3-1 victory — Minnesota’s first since 2004, snapping the longest postseason winless drought ever at 18 games.

Heading into this game, one of the big questions was whether Lewis would even be on the Twins’ active roster — the oft-injured star hadn’t played since Sept. 19 due to a low-grade hamstring strain, and reports from Minnesota’s off-day workout on Monday weren’t overly optimistic. But manager Rocco Baldelli opted to give Lewis a chance, not only including him on the roster but slotting him into the three-hole in Minnesota’s lineup. It’s safe to say that was a wise decision:

The atmosphere at Target Field was electric from the jump — it’s been a long, long wait for another October win, after all — and Lewis’ two-run homer in the bottom of the first off of Toronto ace Kevin Gausman (in his first playoff at-bat, no less) nearly sent the place into orbit. (Given all that the former No. 1 overall pick has been through with his health over the past few years, you can understand why.)

One homer was a Cinderella story. Lewis wasn’t done just yet, though. In his next at-bat, he decided to give right field a try:

Lewis became the first Twin to have a multi-homer game in the postseason since Gary Gaetti in the 1987 ALCS, which also happened to be his first two playoff at-bats. He’s also the first rookie to homer for Minnesota in October since 1991, the last time the team won the World Series.

Those two swings represented the only runs the Twins managed against Gausman, but the righty just wasn’t nearly as sharp as we’re accustomed to seeing. His trademark splitter was frequently non-competitive, allowing Twins batters easy takes that ran up his pitch count — he walked three in addition to allowing three hits, only making it through four innings before Jays manager John Schneider had to dip into his bullpen.

To Toronto’s credit, that bullpen did its job, holding the Twins scoreless over the final six innings. But Minnesota got to this point on the back of some of the best starting pitching in the Majors, and Pablo Lopez made sure that run support was all his team would need.

Making his first playoff start since being acquired from the Marlins, the righty was sensational, sitting in the high 90s with his fastball while dancing around the bottom of the zone with his changeup. Lopez held the Jays hitless through three, and was largely untroubled until the Jays finally mounted a rally in the top of the sixth. Kevin Kiermaier’s RBI single scored Bo Bichette and finally chased Lopez, bringing up Matt Chapman with the tying runs on base. Chapman hit what initially looked like a go-ahead homer ... only for the ball to die in Michael A. Taylor’s glove at the top of the right-center wall.

From there, the rest of Minnesota’s bullpen made sure that things were relatively stress-free. Caleb Thielbar and Griffin Jax handled the seventh and eighth, respectively, and once flamethrowing closer Jhoan Duran took the ball for the ninth, all that was left was for Twins Nation to finally get this postseason monkey off their back.

The Twins now need just one more win over the next two days to move on to a date with the Astros in the ALDS, while the Jays find themselves playing for their season on Wednesday afternoon. First pitch of Game 2 is set for 4:38 p.m. ET.