HOUSTON — Royce Lewis didn’t make the Minnesota Twins’ home crowd of 38,450 on Tuesday wait long to exhale and exorcise the angst that accompanied 18 consecutive postseason losses.
The pent-up frustration accumulated from Minnesota, having lost every playoff contest dating back to Game 2 of the 2004 American League Division Series, needed a release valve. Lewis provided one with his two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning.
It was the defining blow of the Twins’ two-game sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays in that AL wild-card series, and it set the stage for Minnesota to carry momentum into Game 1 of the ALDS Saturday against the reigning champion Houston Astros.
“It was awesome because our home fans, for them to stand up and go crazy like they did for us, I think it was huge, and it gave us a big momentum swing for not only that series but going forward,” Lewis said. “We’re looking forward to getting back home and playing in front of them.
“I think it’s going to push us to get excited for this game knowing that they’re probably going to be just as crazy for their Houston Astros.”
The Twins won’t return to Target Field until Game 3. In the interim, they must face the challenge of eliminating the Astros, who have qualified for six consecutive AL Championship Series. Minnesota won four of six against Houston this season by taking a home series in early April and another on the road in late May.
Those results are moot, particularly given the Astros’ overwhelming advantages in postseason experience and, more importantly, postseason success.
The Twins will hand the ball to right-hander Bailey Ober (8-6, 3.43 ERA) in Game 1, marking his postseason debut. It’s a tall task for Ober, who faced the Astros twice in 2021 and allowed five runs on 14 hits and two walks over 10 innings in a pair of no-decisions.
“I can’t tell you it was an easy decision picking amongst (the five starters), but Bailey is a guy that he offers a pretty unique look,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He’s pitched real well lately. He came off of the little break that he had later on in the year really strong.
“Overall, we just really like what we’ve seen. They haven’t seen him lately. I think it’s been a couple of years since they faced him. And that’s all kind of woven into it.”
The Astros will counter with veteran Justin Verlander (13-8, 3.22 ERA), who will make his 35th career postseason start. Verlander was instrumental in helping Houston secure the AL West title on the final day of the regular season, going 2-0 with a 0.69 ERA during a 5-1 season-ending road trip that enabled the Astros to run down and bypass the Texas Rangers.
“I feel pretty good right now,” Verlander said. “Most of this season’s been a bit tough, kind of starting behind the 8-ball with the injury and then trying to find my mechanics a lot of the year.
“But it seems to have slowly gotten better and better, and last few outings I felt pretty good.”
As for Astros manager Dusty Baker, the decision to tab Verlander was an obvious one.
“Yeah, Verlander, that’s one of the reasons why we brought him here, for some of these big games we’re anticipating we’re going to have,” Baker said.
Twins shortstop Carlos Correa will face his old team after going 3-for-7 with an RBI during the wild-card sweep. He was an integral part of the 2017 Astros team that won the World Series.