CLEVELAND (AP) — As he sprinted madly around the bases, Kevin Kiermaier wondered when he’d stop.
He never did.
Kiermaier legged out a three-run, inside-the-park homer when Cleveland outfielders Oscar Mercado and Leonys Martin collided, and Ryan Yarbrough handled the Indians’ struggling lineup into the eighth inning of his first start this season to lead the Tampa Bay Rays to a 7-2 win Thursday night.
With the Rays ahead 3-0 in the sixth, Kiermaier hit a sinking liner to left-center. Mercado and Martin converged on the ball before slamming into each other as they each made an all-out attempt at catching it.
Mercado took the worst of the crash as Martin’s left knee drove hard into his right hip. As the two Indians players lay helplessly in the grass, the ball ricocheted toward the left field corner and Kiermaier easily circled the bases for the first inside-the-parker allowed by Cleveland since 2008.
“I never saw the ball — at all,” said Kiermaier, who feared he’d get thrown out. “I was just running to run. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. I was so confused running the bases. I don’t know what the heck happened.”
Once he rounded third, Kiermaier stopped worrying. But even back in the dugout, he was puzzled.
“I asked my teammates, ‘Is that a homer? What just happened?’” he said.
Tommy Pham, Avisail García and Willy Adames hit solo homers off Adam Plutko (1-1) as the Rays improved baseball’s best road record to 16-7.
Yarbrough (3-1), recalled before the game after a stint at Triple-A Durham, allowed two runs and four hits in a career-high 7 1/3 innings. The left-hander began the year in Tampa Bay’s bullpen, but struggled and was sent down April 24 to work on his mechanics.
He looked fine-tuned against the Indians, who dropped their fourth straight and nearly lost two more players to injury on a freakish play in the sixth.
The collision between Mercado and Martin sums up the Indians lately. Nothing is going right.
Mercado was down for several minutes before getting to a crouch and finally standing. He did some jogging as manager Terry Francona looked on and remained in the game only to be further tested in the inning as he had to race in to catch a short fly and a line drive.
“It couldn’t have been placed any (more) perfectly,” Mercado said. “We both went at it full speed and it’s just one of those things where it’s tough to call, because you don’t know if you’re going to get to it and it’s just, like, a last-minute — we both reacted and dove. Unfortunately, it resulted in that, but it’s a learning experience.”
Mercado singled in the sixth before being lifted for a pinch-hitter. Martin jammed his knee, but stayed in.
Kiermaier hoped both Mercado and Martin were OK.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “After watching the replay, they hit really good. I hit that ball in a perfect spot. Both of them could not make the play, but they ran into each other. As an outfielder, that’s never what you want to do.”
BANG, BANG, BANG
The Rays didn’t waste any time getting to Plutko, as three of Tampa Bay’s first six batters homered.
Plutko allowed just one hit — a homer — while winning his season debut against Baltimore on May 18. But the right-hander wasn’t nearly as effective this time, yielding eight hits in the first four innings and 12 in 5 1/3.
“Clearly, they were better than I was today,” Plutko said. “They got to me early. Hung with them for a bit and they delivered the knockout blow there in the sixth. Not my best day.”
Rays third baseman Daniel Robertson was replaced in the fifth after suffering an allergic reaction. He has a severe nut allergy and was affected after eating a sweet-potato dish in the clubhouse that contained pecans.
The Rays improved to 8-1 in road series openers.
Rays: INF Yandy Diaz won’t get to face his former team after being placed on the injured list with a badly bruised left hand. He was hit by a pitch Sunday against the New York Yankees and sat out two games before the Rays decided to give him extended rest. Diaz, batting .256 with nine homers and 22 RBIs, was acquired from Cleveland in a three-team trade in December.
Indians: C Roberto Perez sat out his second game in a row with a head injury suffered when he was hit in the mask by a foul ball Tuesday.
Rays: LHP Blake Snell (3-4, 3.31 ERA) took a no-hitter into the seventh inning of his previous start against Cleveland on Sept. 12. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner has 30 strikeouts in his last three starts.
Indians: RHP Shane Bieber (3-2, 3.22) fanned 15 in a shutout last week against Baltimore. His outing was just the 15th since 1908 in which a pitcher had 15 strikeouts without a walk.