SAN DIEGO – Kevin Correia kept everything inside the Petco Park fences on Tuesday, if only just barely. Kurt Suzuki cleared the fence, but not officially.
No matter. Correia's performance goes down as a back-on-track victory, Suzuki's blast counts as an inside-the-park home run, and the Twins are still unbeaten in this harborside ballpark after an unusual 5-3 victory over the Padres.
"Interesting," summed up Suzuki, who had never raced full-speed around the bases on one hit before, at any level, until the mis-officiated play in the eighth inning. "Very weird."
Suzuki's home run was a bizarre footnote, though, compared to the homecoming outing by Correia, who entered the game with a 1-5 record and a 6.80 ERA. The veteran righthander, who grew up about 10 miles away and pitched for his hometown team for two seasons, retired the first 12 batters he faced, lasted six innings for the first time since May 3, and struck out a batter in each inning. "I dug myself a pretty big hole this season to start the year," Correia said. "Any good game at this point is a relief."
Correia, who has pitched in Petco Park more than any ballpark except San Francisco's AT&T Park, seemed to use every bit of that institutional knowledge, every inch of the spacious outfield, to his advantage. Three Padres fly balls were caught with a Twins outfielder's back to the fence, and a sure game-tying double by Headley landed an inch or two foul in deep right field. In a different park, perhaps Target Field, those balls might have ruined an otherwise happy homecoming for Correia.
Those balls "didn't used to be to the fence when I was here," said Correia, pointing out that the Padres have moved the right-field fence in by several feet since he left. "If they had all gotten over the fence, I would have been pretty angry. They were outs when I was here."
Still, he got plenty of outs; five of his six innings were hitless. But he experienced a three-run hiccup in the fifth inning, turning his early two-run lead into a sudden 3-2 deficit even though, Suzuki said, "besides Headley's ball down the line, nothing was really barreled up too good. It was just seeing-eye singles."
They were provided, after Headley sliced a leadoff double into the corner to break up Correia's perfect 12-up-12-down start, by Will Venable and Jedd Gyorko, the latter providing the Padres' first run. Correia induced two straight fly balls, but the first one sent right fielder Chris Parmelee to the right-field wall, allowing both runners to move up, and the second one scored Venable from third.
Then came Correia's worst moment: He centered a pitch in the strike zone to Ian Kennedy, and the .125-hitting pitcher laced a single up the middle, giving himself the lead.
"I was mad at myself for giving up a hit to the pitcher," Correia said. "I didn't concentrate on making a really good first pitch. I threw him a first-pitch cutter and didn't concentrate on getting it down and away."
The Twins struck back quickly, however, with Trevor Plouffe leading off the sixth inning by doubling into the right-field corner, delighting a large crowd of family members near the visiting dugout with his AL-leading 18th double of the season.
He moved to third on a Chris Parmelee ground out, and after Suzuki struck out, Plouffe still tied the score when a Kennedy pitch to Jason Kubel bounced in the dirt and past catcher Yasmani Grandal. Kennedy inflicted similar damage to his own cause in the seventh inning, too, bouncing another pitch to the backstop and allowing Eduardo Escobar to move up a base and score on Josmil Pinto's sacrifice fly, enabling Correia to earn his second victory of the season.
Jared Burton rescued that win by bailing out Brian Duensing in the seventh, retiring three straight batters after the first two in the inning reached base. "Burton was huge. He came in in a big situation and got some big outs for us," manager Ron Gardenhire said of the reliever, who has allowed one run in his last nine appearances. "He's been throwing well. He kept telling us, 'I'm getting closer, I'm getting closer,' so obviously he's feeling it come out of his hand better."
The Twins' final run came on Suzuki's blast to left field, a ball that just cleared the left-field wall, and left fielder Seth Smith's glove, then bounced back onto the warning track. Second base umpire Andy Fletcher incorrectly called the ball in play, but Smith, apparently realizing the call was wrong and would be overturned, chose not to pursue the ball as it rolled away.
"I just kept running. I had a pretty good idea it went out, but I got towards third base and I said, 'shoot, I might as well keep going," said Suzuki, who raced around the bases as center fielder Will Venable ran after the ball. Suzuki slid home just ahead of the relay to the plate, his second home run of the season and first inside-the-park home run of his career.
The umpires briefly conferred about the play, but since it was a home run either way, let Fletcher's incorrect call stand, making the play officially the Twins' first inside-the-park homer since Joe Mauer hit one in the Metrodome against the Angels on July 21, 2007. The umpires "said they were going to look at it. I said, 'we're fine,' " Gardenhire said. "I didn't want to challenge something and have them say it was fan interference and [Suzuki] gets a double. I think he would shoot me."
Instead, he was beaming afterward about a personal first. "Inside the park is way cooler," Suzuki said.