Wander Franco’s impact for the Tampa Bay Rays has been as advertised, but even his exploits were overshadowed by his club’s 11-10 comeback win in 10 innings over the host Boston Red Sox on Monday.
Franco and his teammates — winners of 10 of 17 over Boston — will try to capture the three-game series with another win Tuesday in the second contest.
It was a Monday to remember for the American League East-leading Rays (87-51), who overcame a 7-1 deficit after two innings against Chris Sale to claim their majors-leading 43rd come-from-behind win.
Prior to the comeback, the Rays were 0-69 all-time when trailing Boston by six or more runs.
Franco, 20, tripled in the first inning and posted the first four-hit game (4-for-6, three runs) of his career.
He also went shoulder-to-shoulder with a Hall of Famer in the process.
The shortstop tied Mickey Mantle (1951-52) for the second-longest on-base streak in baseball history by a player under 21, extending his run to 36 games. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson reached base safely in 43 straight as a 20-year-old in 1956.
During his streak, Franco, a switch hitter, is batting .336 (48-for-143) with 36 runs and 26 RBIs.
“I continue to say it, he’s really talented, really special and helps us in so many ways,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.
But Franco’s exploits were an afterthought following the Rays’ longest game of 2021 — 4 hours, 54 minutes — in a Labor Day affair that seemed to have something for everyone.
Austin Meadows completed the comeback in the ninth with an inside-the-park home run — the club’s third this season.
Nelson Cruz hit an eighth-inning solo homer and gave the team its first lead with his third RBI in the 10th.
In their past 15 games, the Rays have been victorious 12 times, have five comeback wins, are averaging 6.5 runs per contest and are batting .309 with runners in scoring position.
Most important — and improbably after the first two frames Monday — they increased their lead over the second-place New York Yankees to 8 1/2 games in the division.
Tampa Bay’s Drew Rasmussen (1-1, 3.38 ERA) goes to the hill Tuesday and will face the Red Sox for the fifth time ever and third as a starter. He has no record and a 2.53 ERA against them.
With all that Boston (79-61) has been through the past 10 games or so, manager Alex Cora has a clear message to his club in the final push of the season.
Just keep winning more than it loses.
With Nick Pivetta and Danny Santana added to the COVID-19 injury list, the number increased to 11 Boston players sidelined — five pitchers and six position players.
“It’s not about winning 30 games in a row at this point. It’s winning series,” Cora said Sunday. “If we win series, we’ll be there.”
His group hasn’t lost a series since dropping three games in the Bronx to the New York Yankees in mid-August.
The third-place Red Sox play 10 of their final 22 games at home, but they are just 24-25 since the All-Star break and 36-29 against the division.
Projected starter Eduardo Rodriguez (11-7, 4.88 ERA) was brilliant over six scoreless innings as the Red Sox beat the Rays 4-0 Thursday in Florida.
The Venezuelan pitcher is now 2-3 with a 4.66 ERA in 12 career starts against Tampa Bay.
–Field Level Media