DETROIT — Cleveland manager Terry Francona has the luxury of knowing the Indians are headed to the postseason no matter what.
So losing a rain-shortened game in late September — in the final half-inning, no less — doesn’t sting as much as it could.
Miguel Cabrera hit a tiebreaking three-run shot in the fifth moments before the game was halted for good, and the Detroit Tigers came away with a 6-3 victory over the Indians on Wednesday night. The game’s second rain delay began after that fifth inning and lasted 72 minutes before Detroit was awarded the win.
Francona didn’t seem too upset to lose in this fashion. Cleveland, which clinched the AL Central title Monday, plays the series finale at Detroit on 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.”
The Tigers still trail Baltimore by one game for the American League’s second wild card.
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.
Blaine Hardy (1-0) won in relief of Michael Fulmer, who lasted only 3 1/3 innings.
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 45 minutes 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.
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.
“The field was getting a little sloppy there toward the end,” Francona said. “I understand there, they wanted to get to that fifth. I get it, I understand.”
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.
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