Wander Franco hits equalizer home run in Rays debut

ST. PETERSBURG – Wander Franco had waited his whole life on Tuesday night. He’s been playing in the sports limelight since he was a young teenager, so he’s past the point of feeling pressure. The 20-year-old infielder said he was “born to hit”. And when he finally made it into the big leagues, Franco wasted no time in showing off the skills that made him baseball’s best prospect.

Franco snatched a three-run equalizer from left-field Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez in the fifth inning of his Major League debut at Tropicana Field, the first hit – and one to remember – many to come for them. Rays’ infielder hitting switches. He scored a brace in the seventh and did a heads-up in the eighth, bringing up a crowd who cheered a little louder than usual from the moment he stepped out of the canoe for his forward stretch. match and then requested a callback from the team’s new young star.

Franco’s sensational debut was not enough to stop the Rays’ losing slippage, however, nor did his arrival slow their struggles in the extra innings. Tampa Bay fell silent after Franco’s big homerun and lost to the Red Sox, 9-5, in 11 innings. The Rays have lost seven straight games, their longest losing streak since losing eight in a row from May 31 to June 8, 2018, and they are now 3-9 in extra games this season.

“Nice electric player. I would have liked us to get a win because a lot of it would have been for his contributions, ”said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “You never forget his debut in the league. He ticked a lot of boxes tonight.

• A mature approach on the plate? Yes. Going home for the first time in the first set, Franco received a standing ovation. He swung on the first two shots he saw, the two strikes, and fouled them. He then made four consecutive throws outside the zone and received more cheers from the home crowd as he trotted to first base. Franco quickly came back to score his first point, as Randy Arozarena charged in goals with a single from the infield and Francisco Mejía followed by a single from the shallow left field.

Overall, Franco has seen 21 shots in five home plate appearances. He took 10 swings. He only blew once, on a fastball in the zone in the third inning.

“The way he controls hitters, how young he is,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said. “And this building behind him, I’ve never seen anything like it – like that – in this building.” To make it slow the game down, they have a special one.

• A smooth and powerful swing? Of course, that’s what he’s known for. The first three balls he put into play were described as “hard hit”, with exit speeds of 95 mph or more. After the Red Sox scored five points against Ryan Yarbrough in a long third inning, Franco made a full count and sent a jerk into the crowd with a 96.4 mph, 370-foot ball hit well in the middle. of the field, but Danny Santana settled under for Franco’s first in the big leagues.

Franco’s talents were once again on display in the seventh, when he crushed a low slider from left-hander Josh Taylor in left field for a brace at 105.3 mph. Franco rushed over and slipped into second base, jumped to his feet and inspired a series of “WAN-DER FRAN-CO” chants from the crowd of 12,994.

After watching Franco tear up Triple-A, the Rays determined he was ready. He looked like that right away.

“You look at the last few weeks here, and it looked like, okay, Wander made his adjustments and was ready for a new challenge based on what he had shown and the way he was doing his business,” said the managing director Erik Neander. before the match. “He passed these tests, so to speak, with flying colors, and [that] gives us the assurance that by coming here and doing many of the same things, he will also be successful in these endeavors.

• A talent for the big time? There’s a reason rookie shortstop Taylor Walls marveled ahead of the game at how Franco “never has a moment.” Beating with two sures and no one in the fifth, Franco unloaded on a Rodriguez first pitch slider and crushed him 362 feet in left field. The crowd at Tropicana Field erupted and he returned the favor as he came out of the dugout on his first encore.

Looks like that’s where he’s supposed to be, right?

“God sent me a surprise with all of this. I came out because I felt the support of the fans, ”Franco said through performer Manny Navarro. “I felt like they were coming to watch me and see me play, so I wanted to thank them.”

• Oh, and he can also play a bit in defense? Yes, especially with his natural instincts on the pitch. When Rafael Devers took off from second base on a Hunter Renfroe with a strikeout in the eighth, Franco – a natural shortstop who has learned the third goal in the past year – made the heads-up to eliminate Devers , then fired a powerful jet at Yandy Díaz to force Renfroe. Cash called it a “web game of gems”. To hear Franco describe it, it sounded routine.

“When I performed the play I took a look to see where he was and saw he was making an effort,” Franco said. “So I said, ‘Hey, I have to try to get this guy out. “”

So officially began the Franco era of Rays’ Wander. With a loss, yes, continuing a frustrating streak for a team trying to get back to first place. But also with electricity, energy and hope.

“We have a very good team. I think what you see from Wander, what he brought in today, is energy, ”said wide receiver Mike Zunino. “There are more guys who are able and willing to help. We just need to keep playing good baseball, and we’ll do just fine. “

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