DETROIT -- The Tigers couldn't beat the rain Wednesday night, but they had just enough at-bats to beat the Indians. Miguel Cabrera's three-run home run in the fifth inning came right before the downpour that stopped play at Comerica Park to finish out a rain-shortened 6-3 win.
The Tigers' second straight victory kept them within a game of the second American League Wild Card spot after the Orioles rallied in the ninth to beat the Blue Jays in Toronto. If the two teams finish the season tied for the spot, they'd play a one-game tiebreaker in Baltimore on Monday. Toronto is a game ahead of the O's for the top Wild Card.
The Indians remain one game back of the AL East champion Red Sox, who would open the ALDS at home against Cleveland as things currently stand. The Rangers currently hold the AL's top seed for the playoffs, meaning they would play the winner of the AL Wild Card Game.
If the Wild Card race goes to a tiebreaker, Michael Fulmer would be in line to start it. If not, then the Tigers rookie closed his regular season Wednesday with three runs on six hits allowed over 3 1/3 innings, the final two runs coming in the fourth inning following a 45-minute rain delay. Carlos Santana's two-out RBI single off Blaine Hardy tied it, nullifying Ian Kinsler's two-run homer in the third on a night when the Indians had a procession of relievers set up.
"They were just taking pitches," Fulmer said. "I thought I made some quality pitches, especially the slider in. And they weren't biting at it. So I have to make an adjustment."
A pair of fifth-inning singles, one of them a Jose Iglesias line drive that right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall lost in the lights and raindrops, set up Cabrera, who -- moments after thunder rumbled -- hit the first pitch he saw from Joseph Colon on a line into the right-field seats. When the inning finished three batters later, the game was official.
After a delay of 1 hour, 12 minutes, all of it spent under continuous rain, the game was called. The two teams spent almost as much time in delays (1:57) as actually playing (2:02).
"It's in Major League Baseball's hands. They have to sign off on it," manager Brad Ausmus said. "But I guess from all accounts, there's at least another three hours of rain coming. With a day game tomorrow, there's no reason to sit around and hope there's a window at 1 o'clock in the morning, which is no guarantee."
Indians manager Terry Francona noted that, if the weather were to get in the way of Thursday's game, necessitating a makeup, Cleveland would need to return to Detroit on Monday. The Indians have a three-game series in Kansas City this weekend, and will begin their AL Division Series on Oct. 6.
"The umpires work in concert with the league and us," Francona said of the decision to call the game. "They were good about communicating with us. You try to use common sense. You also know that the Tigers are playing for a lot. So, we talked before and actually during the rain delays. I think they did a good job of handling it. Nobody wants to stay until 3 in the morning, knowing tomorrow might be a long one, too."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Crushed by Kinsler: The Tigers came out of the first rain delay slugging, from James McCann's double off the left-field fence leading off the third to Iglesias' RBI double down the left-field line into a giant puddle in foul territory. But Kinsler's 27th home run of the year, a drive into the bullpen, was the big blow. The two-run homer tied him with Damion Easley for second-most home runs in a season by a Tigers second baseman, one behind Lou Whitaker.
Naquin shows off arm: With two outs in the first, Cabrera drilled a fastball from Zach McAllister to deep right-center field with an exit velocity of 107 mph, per Statcast™. Cabrera had a surefire single, but decided to test rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin, pushing past first for a would-be double. Naquin uncorked a 94-mph throw that soared 234 feet. Shortstop Francisco Lindor gloved the throw, applied the tag and then helped Cabrera off his feet after the inning's final out.
"That was a nice play, wasn't it?" Francona said. "He never gives up. If you go hard all the time, you've got a chance to do something like that. Now, it was obviously a great throw, but I think there was some stuff leading up to it. He got to it quick. That was a fun play to watch."
Cabrera atones: Cabrera thought his first-inning drive was gone, only to watch it hit off the wall. His fifth-inning drive, on the other hand, had little doubt, a classic Cabrera opposite-field swing toward the right-field corner. His 36th home run of the season was his 306th as a Tiger, tying him with Hank Greenberg for third in franchise history. More >
"Great," Cabrera said. "But I still gotta go out there and play [Thursday]."
Bases unloaded: The Tribe had a chance to break the game open against Fulmer in the third, when Jason Kipnis (double), Lindor (walk) and Santana (walk) loaded the bases with no outs. Jose Ramirez, who entered the day batting .360 with runners in scoring position and .429 with the bases full, then popped out on the first pitch. Fulmer followed by retiring Chisenhall and Coco Crisp to escape unscathed. The Indians are batting .224 with the bases loaded this year and are one of two teams (along with Atlanta) with no grand slams. More >
"That field was getting sloppy towards the end there. I understand, they wanted to get to that fifth. I get it. I understand." -- Francona, on playing through heavy rain in the fifth inning
"I was more worried about a win. I'd rather pitch in the postseason than get a personal achievement, honestly. It might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. You never know." -- Fulmer, on not getting the 6 1/3 innings he needed to qualify for the AL ERA title
WHAT'S NEXT Indians: Rookie lefty Ryan Merritt (0-0, 1.50 ERA) will make the first start of his Major League career in a 1:10 p.m. ET tilt with the Tigers on Thursday at Comerica Park. In 143 1/3 innings with Triple-A Columbus this year, Merritt went 11-8 with a 3.70 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 23 walks.
Tigers: Detroit's postseason hopes continue to rest on the arms of the club's young pitchers. Daniel Norris (3-2, 3.59 ERA) takes the mound in Thursday's series finale looking to beat the Indians for the second time this year.