The Twins scored two runs off of the first eight pitches they saw in their return from the All-Star break.

Carlos Correa took the game's first pitch to the opposite field. Double. Donovan Solano slapped the next pitch. Single. And Byron Buxton looked at a pitch before his hard-hit sacrifice fly brought in Correa. Kyle Farmer drove in Solano with a triple.

It appeared to be an extended round of batting practice, against the Athletics — the worst team in Major League Baseball — with the only pitching staff that had an ERA above 6.00. That much made sense.

Then they played the rest of the game.

Joey Gallo's tiebreaking two-run blast off of rookie flamethrower Shintaro Fujinami in the top of the ninth salvaged a 5-4 Twins victory, though they fielded the same players who suffered the same hitless stints that have plagued their position in an atrocious AL Central all season.

At 46-46, the Twins find themselves back in first place by a half-game. Cleveland lost at Texas earlier Friday.

"I didn't even see the first pitch," Gallo said in a Bally Sports postgame interview. "I was like, 'I'm in trouble here.' I'm just going to swing and see what happens, and somehow I ended up hitting the ball."

Gallo delivered off a fastball clocked at 99.9 miles per hour after the Twins had mostly failed time and again with runners in scoring position following their opening outburst. They left Farmer stranded at third as Oakland starter Ken Waldichuk retired eight in a row. After Oakland scored three runs off a struggling Kenta Maeda, pinch hitter Edouard Julien tied the score in the fourth inning with a two-out double off reliever Austin Pruitt, the second of seven A's pitchers.

But the Twins left runners on second and third in the fourth. Alex Kirilloff grounded out to leave the bases loaded in the fifth inning and Buxton took a called third strike to do the same in the sixth. Correa came up with two runners on in the eighth but hit into his league-leading 17th double play.

"Grinded through a bunch of at bats, had a ton of guys on base," Baldelli told reporters after the game. "Didn't bring him home at the rate we wanted to. … It was a long [3 hours, 28 minutes, the Twins' longest nine-inning game this season] but satisfying game."

The Twins struck out 14 times and left 10 runners on base, though hitting coach David Popkins wasn't around to see all of them unwind their batting gloves. He was ejected in the seventh, as he appeared to explicitly voice his frustrations with plate umpire Nic Lentz's strike zone.

"All night, and you know it," he seemed to say, after a pinch-hitting Gallo was called out on a borderline third strike to open the seventh.

Two innings later, Gallo avenged the call in his coach's absence — and had the opportunity to do so because of stellar bullpen performances.

Jhoan Duran worked around a run in the ninth to notch his 13th save of the season on a night in which all other Twins relievers — Emilio Pagán, Jordan Balazovic, Jovani Moran and Griffin Jax — held the A's scoreless, which was especially critical after Maeda's early exit.

BOXSCORE: Twins 5, Oakland 4

Maeda entered with an excellent 17 innings of three-run baseball in the three starts since his return from the injured list, and exited after three innings, 80 pitches and a season-high four walks.

Maeda's six strikeouts were among few other positives as he struggled through one of the worst displays of command in his career. He's issued more than three walks in only eight outings throughout his seven MLB seasons.

"Everything was challenging, so that happens sometimes," Baldelli said. "He ended up with almost 80 pitches after three innings? I mean, that's a lot of pitches. All that said, our bullpen's fresh and we called down, we started running those guys out there. They did a phenomenal job, and they knew they were going to have to get after it."

The Star Tribune did not send the writer of this article to the game. This was written using a broadcast, interviews and other material.