MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The clutch swings keep coming from Royce Lewis and the Minnesota Twins.
Lewis hit his second grand slam in two games, giving the Twins a second-inning jolt in a 10-6 victory Monday night over the Cleveland Guardians that stretched their AL Central lead to a season-high seven games.
“He’s got a knack for some big things,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said, “so more to come.”
Matt Wallner had a solo shot in the third and Jorge Polanco launched a three-run homer into the third deck in the fourth to extend the power surge for the Twins (69-63), whose 70 home runs since the All-Star break are the second-most in the major leagues.
“Hopefully I’m blessed enough to get those opportunities again, because those are fun,” Lewis said.
The first overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft has three grand slams in just 50 career games.
“He’s got a chance to be a star in this league,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said.
Kody Funderburk (1-0) was credited with the win in his major league debut, tallying three strikeouts, two weak groundouts back to the mound and one popout behind second base over two perfect innings in relief of a roughed-up Kenta Maeda.
The defending division champion Guardians (62-70) matched their 2022 loss total with 30 games to go. They had a half-game edge on the Twins at the break, but the prolonged absence of three injured pitchers including 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber and the surprising trade of a fourth starter, Aaron Civale, have contributed to a 17-25 record since then.
The Twins, who have been in first place for 141 of 151 days this season, have only nine games left against teams with winning records. That doesn’t include the Guardians, of course, who are on the schedule five more times including a three-game series in Cleveland next week.
Bo Naylor hit a two-run homer and Gabriel Arias and Steven Kwan each had an RBI double off Maeda, who went four innings and gave up all six runs.
Guardians starter Xzavion Curry (3-3) lasted only two innings with six runs allowed. Daniel Norris, promoted from Triple-A Columbus for his third stint with the club this year, relieved Curry and gave up the homers to Wallner and Polanco.
Lewis became the 10th player in baseball history to hit at least three grand slams within his first 10 career homers and the first Twins rookie with multiple slams in one season since Danny Valencia in 2010. No other Twins player has hit grand slams on consecutive days.
“He’s a great hitter,” Maeda said. “We’re really lucky to have him.”
Lewis came out of the dugout for a curtain call, donning the team’s celebratory fishing vest, after his upper-cut swing crushed a 76 mph curveball into the bullpen. Center fielder Myles Straw crashed into the wall trying to snag it.
“Eight RBIs and two wins, that’s what I think of,” Lewis said. “It’s truly special, man. Our team, the way we’re rolling and all the quality at-bats we’re putting together at the same time in the same innings, these are the kind of explosive innings we can put together deep into the playoffs any given night.”
With Cal Quantrill (shoulder inflammation) due back soon, the Guardians designated Noah Syndergaard for assignment Sunday after just his sixth start with the team.
“I think we probably caught him by surprise a little bit,” Francona said, adding: “Once we realized we were going to do it, we didn’t want to make him fly here.”
Guardians: 1B/DH Josh Naylor (strained right oblique muscle) will begin a rehab assignment Tuesday at Double-A Akron, where he’ll play the whole week before a reassessment of his readiness to return. He has missed 25 games.
Twins: Byron Buxton (strained right hamstring) has been taking part in pregame workouts in CF in preparation for his return to the field. The Twins have limited him to DH duty due to persistent knee pain.
“One day at a time,” said Buxton, who has missed the last 24 games. “When I’m in center, then you’ll see a little bit more excitement. Until then, I ain’t getting my hopes up.”