HOUSTON -- A year ago Monday, Royce Lewis tore the ACL in his right knee for a second time.
On the first anniversary of the injury, the rookie returned to the field in a season debut more suited for a fairy tale than a baseball diamond.
"A year to the day," he said, beaming. "You just can't make this stuff up."
Last May 29, Lewis was injured when he crashed into an outfield wall while making a catch in his first big league appearance in center field. The first overall pick in the 2017 amateur draft had reconstructive surgery a few days later, ending his first major league season after just 12 games.
It was the second time in two years that he sustained the same injury, having torn the ACL for the first time in February 2021. Lewis was drafted as a shortstop but will play third base for now with fellow top pick Carlos Correa entrenched at shortstop.
During months of grueling rehabilitation, there were many low times when Lewis wondered why these setbacks kept happening.
"All the time," he said. "I mean, you're human, right?"
But on Monday all that pain seemed miles away when he returned to the lineup.
"I loved it," he said. "I loved every bit of it."
Lewis gave Minnesota an early lead with a three-run homer in the third. The Astros went ahead 5-4 when Jose Altuve hit a grand slam in the seventh.
But Lewis came through again late, tying it with an RBI single off Ryan Pressly with two outs in the ninth, the closer's first blown save in 11 chances this year.
Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli raved about the game by Lewis and noted he also made some nice defensive plays.
"What a day," Baldelli said. "What a day for him."
Sonny Gray, who started the game in which Lewis was injured, also started Monday's game.
"I'm getting chills because [I was] back on the mound too when he came back," Gray said as goosebumps covered his arms. "It was a welcome sight when we got on the airplane yesterday and he was there smiling, just being Royce. And then for him to come out today and do that -- he's a special kid."
Lewis couldn't stop smiling after the game and remained in uniform with eye black still on his face long after it had ended as he reveled in his triumphant comeback. But the 23-year-old's grin seemed to get even bigger when talking about the excitement his teammates had in witnessing his return.
"I truly love these guys," he said. "It's like a second family. So it means the world to me that they accept me and they want me here and we have fun together."