DETROIT — Miguel Cabrera’s fifth-inning homer might as well have come in the ninth.
Cabrera hit a tiebreaking three-run shot moments before the game was halted for good, and the Detroit Tigers came away with a rain-shortened 6-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday night, keeping pace with Baltimore in the AL wild-card race.
Detroit trails the Orioles by one game for the AL’s second wild card, and the Tigers certainly caught a break in this one. The rain was a factor throughout the evening — there was also a delay during the third inning — and it was coming down when Detroit began its rally in the fifth.
With two on and one out, Cabrera hit a line drive over the wall in right off Joseph Colon (1-3) for his 36th homer.
“When you score runs, anytime in the game, it’s big,” Cabrera said. “Doesn’t matter rain, no rain, if the sun is coming out.”
There was actually a cheer from the crowd when the grounds crew emerged to put the tarp on the field at the end of the fifth. After a delay of 72 minutes, the game was called. The stoppage in the third was 45 minutes.
Blaine Hardy (1-0) won in relief of Michael Fulmer, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona didn’t seem too upset to lose in this fashion. The teams are scheduled to play the series finale Thursday afternoon, but there was no telling when the rain would stop.
“I think they did a good job of handling it,” Francona said. “Nobody wanted to stay here until three in the morning, knowing that tomorrow might be a long one too.”
Before the game, it looked like a mid-game delay would likely hurt the Tigers, who were hoping for a big night from Fulmer. Cleveland was starting Zach McAllister, who has pitched almost exclusively in relief this year, so the Indians figured to be using their bullpen quite a bit anyway.
But both times the game was stopped, Detroit seemed to benefit. The Tigers trailed 1-0 when the game was delayed in the third. When it resumed, James McCann and Jose Iglesias hit consecutive doubles off reliever Cody Anderson, and Ian Kinsler followed with a two-run homer to put Detroit up 3-1.
Fulmer came back after the delay and took the mound in the fourth. The rookie pitched to only three more batters before being lifted after an RBI single by Rajai Davis. Carlos Santana hit an RBI single later that inning to tie it.
Fulmer’s ERA rose to 3.06, and unless he pitches again in the regular season, he’ll fall a few innings short of qualifying for the title.
“I was more worried about a win,” Fulmer said. “I’d rather pitch in the postseason than get a personal achievement, honestly.”
In the Detroit fifth, Iglesias led off with a line drive to right, which Lonnie Chisenhall misplayed for a single. He appeared to have trouble with either the lights or the rain. One out later, Cameron Maybin singled, bringing Cabrera up with two on.
“Obviously, you want to score in the fifth there, because if it gets rained out, it’s an official game,” Fulmer said. “He’s always coming in the clutch, no matter what inning it is.”
Fulmer is at 159 innings and would need to reach 162 to qualify for the ERA title — or 163 if the Tigers have to play a one-game tiebreaker for a postseason berth. The right-hander is lined up to pitch that potential tiebreaker Monday, if needed. Detroit could also conceivably use him in relief in one of these next few games, although manager Brad Ausmus seems hesitant to go that route.
“Assuming that we’re still in the thick of it, that might be tough to do because we might need him to pitch after Sunday,” Ausmus said. “I don’t know that I would want to ask him to do that. We’ll see.”
Fulmer’s ERA is at 3.057. Toronto’s Aaron Sanchez is close behind at 3.065 and is on track to start Sunday.
Tigers: 3B Nick Castellanos, who returned Tuesday night from a left hand injury, was in the starting lineup Wednesday and was 0 for 1.
Indians: Cleveland sends LHP Ryan Merritt (0-0) to the mound for his first major league start Thursday, weather permitting.
Tigers: Detroit starts LHP Daniel Norris (3-2).
Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister