By Tom Withers, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) – Justin Verlander wasn’t about to let a win slip away in the rain.
Verlander returned to the mound after sitting through a 62-minute rain delay to get his fifth win and Miguel Cabrera hit another homer — maybe the luckiest of his career — as the Detroit Tigers beat the Cleveland Indians 11-7 on Wednesday night, sweeping the two-game series between the AL Central’s top teams.
Verlander (5-4) was two outs from qualifying for a victory, when the game was stopped with the Tigers leading 9-5 in the fifth. The right-hander came back after the weather break and finished the inning to get the win, ending a run of five straight victories by the Indians over former Cy Young winners.
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said his general rule is not let a pitcher return after sitting more than an hour. However, he made an exception because it was so close, and because Verlander is Verlander.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s been our horse,” Leyland. “He has earned that right. I thought he deserved it.”
After the long delay in the fifth, the game was stopped for another 48 minutes in the eighth.
Victor Martinez hit two sacrifice flies off Ubaldo Jimenez (3-3) as the Tigers, who led 9-2 in the fifth, held on to move within one-half game of the first-place Indians.
After the second rain delay, Cabrera connected for a two-run homer off reliever Rich Hill.
It was the slugger’s fifth homer in three games and 13th this season. The shot to right-center was helped over the wall by center fielder Michael Bourn, who ran back to the warning track and was in position to make the catch but had the ball bounce out of his glove and into the stands.
“It was a lucky home run,” Cabrera said. “I was surprised. That’s never happened to me.”
Carlos Santana hit a two-run homer and Yan Gomes connected for the Indians, who will open a four-game series in Boston on Thursday — manager Terry Francona’s return to Fenway Park for the first time since leaving the Red Sox.
Down 9-2 after three, the Indians fought back within two runs but lost some momentum because of the delays.
“Every time we would get something going, the rain would come and kind of kill things,” third baseman Mark Reynolds said. “It is what it is. There’s nothing you can do about Mother Nature.”
Verlander wasn’t sharp for the third straight outing, allowing five runs and 10 hits. He walked one and struck out nine, but the five-time All-Star wasn’t about to let a win slip away because of the weather.
While the grounds crew hauled out the tarp to cover the field in the fifth, Verlander stood on the mound and gave an incredulous look to umpire Tim Welke, the crew chief working second base. Verlander was aware a possible victory was being washed away since he would likely not be coming back after the delay.
As the tarp was still being rolled up nearly an hour later, Verlander went back out to warm up without his teammates and stayed in the game despite a lengthy wait between his 100th and 101st pitches.
Verlander knew during the stoppage that Leyland might not be willing to let him resume pitching.
“I was very much paying attention to the clock,” he said. “I was kind of lobbying to Jim during the rain delay. If it was five minutes more, I was done.”
When play resumed, he retired Mark Reynolds on a grounder to third and struck out Ryan Raburn looking.
Verlander took a seven-run lead into the fifth, but was touched up for three runs on Michael Brantley’s RBI single and Santana’s homer, his eighth.
Verlander may be one of the AL’s most dominant pitchers, but the 2011 Cy Young winner has only been average against the Indians. He came in 14-14 in 31 career starts against Cleveland, which had already beaten him once this year.
The Indians had Verlander on the ropes in the second, but couldn’t come up with the big hit. Verlander gave up just one run and worked out of a two-out, bases-loaded situation by getting Brantley on a force.
The next time he took the mound, Verlander had a four-run cushion as the Tigers took advantage of two walks to score four runs in the third and take a 6-2 lead.
Jimenez, who allowed six runs in four innings, walked Torii Hunter with one out and then threw four consecutive balls to the dangerous Cabrera. Prince Fielder hit a ground-rule RBI double, and Martinez delivered his second sac fly to make it 4-2. Jhonny Peralta and Brayan Pena continued the onslaught against Jimenez with run-scoring doubles.
The Tigers didn’t waste any time, scoring two runs in the first off Jimenez, who had pitched as well in his past four starts as in any stretch since joining the Indians in 2011.
NOTES: Francona said 1B Nick Swisher will rejoin the Indians in time for Friday’s game in Boston. Swisher was placed on the paternity list Wednesday after his wife, JoAnna, had the couple’s first child, a girl. … The Tigers and Indians next meet on June 7-9 in Detroit. … Cabrera is batting .466 (14 of 30) during an eight-game hitting streak. … Leyland rested starting C Alex Avila, who is batting just .174 and mired in a 1-for-21 slump. Leyland doesn’t know what’s wrong with Avila. “I wish I did,” he said. “I don’t want to indicate that Alex isn’t our catcher because he is, but at some point I have to do something — sit him down or go every other day for a while. I don’t really have the formula just yet in my mind.”
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