Miguel Cabrera came into Thursday night's game against Tampa Bay without a homer since May 20, though that didn't give the Rays much confidence.
"We all know what that man can do," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "He can hit a homer at any time to any place in any ballpark."
Cabrera, who has been struggling with a sore back, did just that, going the opposite way for a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Detroit Tigers a 5-3 victory.
"The way it is going right now, I wasn't sure it was going to get out," he said. "I'm dealing with my back every day, but I still have to go out there and play hard."
The game was tied at three entering the ninth, but Alex Avila singled off Tommy Hunter (0-2) with one out. Andrew Romine pinch ran and trotted home when Cabrera hit his seventh career game-ending homer into the right-field stands.
"That was huge for us, and big for him to get off the slide," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "He's definitely a player who can raise his game under pressure."
Justin Wilson (3-2) picked up the win with a scoreless inning of relief.
Tigers starter Justin Verlander pitched seven innings, allowing two runs on six hits and five walks. He's now walked five batters three times this season after not doing it a single time in 2016. He struck out six.
"Seven innings and two runs is a good start," he said. "I could sense it was going to be a close game, so I wanted to keep us in it and give us a chance."
Alex Cobb gave up three runs on eight hits and two walks in 6 2/3 innings, striking out three.
Victor Martinez gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead with his first RBI of June, a single that snapped a 0-for-16 slump.
Daniel Robertson tied it in the second with a run-scoring groundout, and Logan Morrison put the Rays ahead with a two-out double in the third.
J.D. Martinez's double made it 2-2 in the bottom of the third, but Cobb and Verlander both settled down at that point.
Ian Kinsler led off the seventh with a single and took second on Avila's walk. However, Cobb got Cabrera to bounce into a 5-4-3 double play on his 116th and final pitch.
"Normally, you never want to let Miggy see a pitcher for a fourth time, but Alex was getting him to hit the ball on the ground to third," Cash said. "I decided to take the chance and it worked out."
Jumbo Diaz came out of the bullpen and got Victor Martinez to hit a routine grounder to short, but it went under Robertson's glove, allowing Avila to score the go-ahead run.
"During the pitching change, we had been talking about there being a lot of loose dirt on the infield," Robertson said. "I know Martinez can't run, but I didn't want to get caught between hops, so I came in to get it and my foot just slipped."
Francisco Rodriguez pitched the eighth for Detroit, and allowed a long tying homer to Steven Souza Jr.
Rays: C Wilson Ramos (ACL) went 1 for 3 in a seven-inning catching stint while on rehab at Triple-A Durham. RHP Brad Boxberger (flexor strain) struck out the side in the seventh inning while making his first rehab outing.
Tigers: Victor Martinez left the game after reaching on Robertson's seventh-inning error due to an illness.
SETTING UP CABRERA
Cobb said his approach to Cabrera in the seventh inning was simple: fastballs on the inside corner.
"He was taking every outside pitch the other way, and he was crushing off-speed pitches, so I was going to get beat with my best shot," he said. "That's one of the toughest outs in baseball, but I got it."
K-ROD STRUGGLES AGAIN
Francisco Rodriguez complained to the media earlier this week about his usage since losing the closer's role. He said that he thinks he deserves another shot at late-inning situations and that he's not happy with the lack of communication from Ausmus and pitching coach Rich Dubee.
He got a chance Thursday to pitch in the eighth inning of a tie game, and gave up a 432-foot homer and a double that was measured as 99 mph off the bat.
Rays: RHP Erasmo Ramirez (3-1, 4.20) will pitch for Tampa Bay in the second game of a four-game series. Ramirez is 1-1 with a 6.59 ERA in six career appearances, including two starts, against Detroit.
Tigers: LHP Daniel Norris is scheduled to start for Detroit on Friday. Norris (3-4, 4.41) is 2-6 with a 4.52 ERA in 14 career starts at Comerica Park.