Franco’s Electric Debut Not Enough To Prevent Rays’ Seventh Straight Loss

Wander Franco met with the media before his debut Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. (Tom Layberger)

ST. PETERSBURG — A much-anticipated debut became a memorable evening for 12,994 at Tropicana Field on Tuesday night when Wander Franco launched a first-pitch, game-tying three-run homer in the fifth.

Trailing Boston 5-2, Kevin Kiermaier led off the Rays’ half of the fifth and was plunked by an Eduardo Rodriguez pitch. After Yandy Diaz followed with a single through the hole between first and second, Franco blasted a slider into the left field stands for his first career hit.

The crowd, at least those in Rays colors, remained on its feet until MLB’s top prospect acknowledged a curtain call.

“I felt the fans came out to see me play and I wanted to thank them,” said Franco, who as he crossed home plate pointed to his father in the stands, through an interpreter.

Unfortunately, the electricity Franco provided was not enough to stave off the Rays’ seventh consecutive loss, 9-5 in 11 innings. The defeat dropped the Rays 1.5 games back of the Red Sox.

Franco went 2-for-4 in his debut. In addition to his homer, the 20-year-old doubled and walked.

The crowd, which was by far the largest to see the Rays this season, roared when Franco was announced as part of the starting lineup and began chanting his name three pitches into his first at-bat as a big leaguer

The decibel level surged when he drew a six-pitch walk, and came around to score thanks to some sloppy fielding by the Red Sox that helped the Rays take a 2-0 lead in the first.

After Franco flew out in the third, his homer two innings later was the highlight of an evening in which he also turned in a gem of a double play. With one out in the eighth, Franco fielded Hunter Renfroe’s grounder, tagged out Rafael Devers trying to advance to third, and threw across the diamond to get Renfroe.

“He’s a pretty electric player,” said Rays manager Kevin Cash. “I wish we would have somehow got a win, which would have been in large part because of his contributions.”

The double play helped keep the game tied at 5-5. The teams went into extra innings and both had great opportunities to score in the tenth, but failed to do so.

The Red Sox broke the tie with four runs in the ninth off Pete Fairbanks as the Rays fell to 3-9 in extra innings.

“We have to weather the storm,” said Mike Zunino. “We have a very good team. We need to continue to play good baseball and we will get out of this fine.”

The way Franco played Tuesday night, not only might everything be fine the rest of the season, but the Trop could be a pretty entertaining place to spend a summer evening.

“He is a talented player who is going to be fun to watch over the coming couple of months,” said Cash.

The three-game series resumes Wednesday night at 7:10.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.