HOUSTON – When Brock Stewart watched the final batter he faced, Brandon Belt, swing and miss at a 97 mile-per-hour fastball to end the seventh inning Wednesday, he let out all his emotions.

Stewart roared with a yell that nearly pierced through the cheering from a sold-out crowd. His head bobbed from the adrenaline rush as he took his first couple of steps off the mound following a 13-pitch scoreless inning.

There was a lot behind those yells, that moment. He worked through a three-month stint on the injured list just in time to make his first postseason roster. He was facing Toronto, one of his former teams. He went three years without pitching in professional baseball and there were days when he wasn't sure he would ever make it back.

The son of a college baseball coach, it was a moment, an inning, he visualized his entire life.

"I've been with the Dodgers in the playoffs, but not on the roster," Stewart said after the Twins swept the Jays in the wild-card series at Target Field. "I've been around the playoffs. Just to do it in the playoffs, to do it against a team I've played for, yeah, it was cool. I was locked in on each pitch, but when I saw that final swing and miss, I let it all out as you saw."

Every season there are players who seemingly come out of nowhere. Stewart was that guy for the Twins. He entered spring training as a non-roster invitee. He hadn't pitched in the majors since 2019.

He transformed into one of their most trusted arms in the bullpen. He permitted two runs in 27⅔ innings (0.65 ERA) with 39 strikeouts. The last time he was in the big leagues, he was a 91-mph sinkerballer. Now he was hitting 100 mph with his fastball.

Stewart has repeatedly said this is the most fun he's had playing baseball. Giving up virtually no runs is a part of that. The other part is off the field.

"This is the most comfortable I've been in a clubhouse," Stewart said. "Everybody cares about each other. Just a lot of quality humans. When you have that combination of good people and the fact they care about one another, it just makes it fun coming to the ballpark every day. We joke around. We rag on each other. At the end of the day, we're a brotherhood trying to get wins as a unit."

It was almost all taken away from Stewart. He struggled during the 2019 season with a 7.36 ERA as a starting pitcher in Class AAA and a 9.82 ERA in the majors as a reliever. He was released by the Cubs in 2020 when some teams trimmed their minor league rosters due to the pandemic.

After tearing an elbow ligament, Stewart underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2021. Ten months into his recovery from surgery, when he began throwing with velocity from 120 feet, he experienced more pain in his elbow from a bone spur that wasn't removed when he had Tommy John surgery.

"It was just really frustrating," he said. "I was a minor-league free agent, hadn't pitched in pro ball for a couple years and had pain in my elbow after TJ. All of that was in my head. I didn't know what I had left."

When Stewart experienced pain from the bone spur, which he thought should have been removed during his Tommy John surgery operation, he contemplated retirement. He discussed it with his wife, Christina, and other family members.

"They basically told me to just go with my gut, follow my heart,' said Stewart, who had surgery to remove the bone spur in March 2022. "That's what I did. I didn't want 2019 to be the last you saw of Brock Stewart in pro ball just because it wasn't a very good sample. I had a bitter taste in my mouth from that, so I really wanted to get back."

On April 27, Stewart made it back to the majors. He struck out his first batter.

"When he stepped up for us this year, it was electric," said Derek Falvey, the Twins' president of baseball operations. "All due respect to Jhoan [Duran], who has amazing stuff, Griffin [Jax] and all those guys, he fit right in with those guys. He had stuff as good as them."

Stewart landed on the injured list in June with elbow soreness. He initially expected to return within a couple of weeks. Then the discomfort kept lingering. He tried to ramp up around the end of July, but soreness returned to his forearm.

Here he was having the best season of his life and now he couldn't figure out why his arm wasn't cooperating. It wasn't until August, already a full month on the IL, when he learned the median nerve was "getting trapped" in his forearm.

Once that was solved and Stewart saw his pitches looked in bullpen sessions and minor league rehab outings, he knew he would be ready for the postseason.

Indeed, he was.

"Do we really expect anything else from Brock?" Jax said. "That's what he did all season."