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Wander Franco makes big debut, but Rays lose 7th straight

A sloppy 11th inning nets four runs for the Red Sox and sends the Rays home frustrated yet again.
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Wander Franco (5) at bat during his MLB debut in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Tuesday June 22, 2021.
Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Wander Franco (5) at bat during his MLB debut in the ninth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg on Tuesday June 22, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jun. 23, 2021|Updated Jun. 23, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG — After a miserable road trip in which they lost six straight games for seemingly a dozen different reasons, the Rays were hoping things would start going their way again at home Tuesday against the Red Sox.

There were some promising signs, most notably a three-run, game-tying homer in the fifth inning from 20-year-old Wander Franco as part of an electrifying major-league debut that had Tropicana Field rocking.

And even in extra innings, which have been vexing, as they wriggled their way out of a first-and-third-with-no-outs jam in the 10th.

But they didn’t have enough go right, and they did way too much wrong, losing again, 9-5 in 11 innings, extending a skid that is their longest in more than three years.

“We’re just kind of going through a slump lately and a lot of things aren’t going the way that we want them to go,” infielder Yandy Diaz said via team interpreter Manny Navarro.

The most egregious mistake was made by Diaz, who let a hard-hit ground ball go through his legs in what was a messy 11th inning by reliever Pete Fairbanks, scoring the first two of four Boston runs.

“Everything kind of unraveled,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Personally, I’m surprised that we were even in that ballgame at that point.

“We put ourselves behind. And then that inning just kind of speaks for itself. We didn’t make pitches. We didn’t make the plays behind them. And a team that’s playing well, like the Red Sox, they took advantage of it.”

The Rays had their problems on the mound, as Ryan Yarbrough had a brutal outing in a bulk role, allowing five runs over two innings, and Fairbanks was again not sharp.

They made mistakes on the bases, Diaz running into an out at third to end the second inning and pinch-runner Brett Phillips not running to third on what became a forceout in the 10th as Joey Wendle had been intentionally walked. “I’m not sure what happened with Philly,” Cash said. “I’m not sure if he forgot that they had walked Joey. I really don’t know.”

And they had another rough night at the plate, going 3-for-17 with runners in scoring position, including Randy Arozarena swinging at a 3-0 pitch and popping up to start the 10th. They failed twice more to score in extra innings despite the benefit of starting with a runner on second, extending their scoreless streak to six extra innings and eight of their last nine. No surprise, they are 3-9 in extra innings.

“We’ve gone a little quiet here as of late with guys in scoring position, and getting that big hit with extra-inning games,” Cash said.

“We’ve talked about it kind of over and over on this tough stretch that we’ve been on, that we’d like to somehow find a way to manufacture something, put a little bit more pressure on the opposition, but we’re just not doing it right now. l know we’re totally capable of it.

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“But it does become frustrating day to day as we’re not getting it done.”

There was some good relief work, especially by Collin McHugh, and catcher Mike Zunino made a couple of good plays, but the only real highlight as the Rays dropped to 43-31 and 1½ games behind the Red Sox in the American League East was Franco.

The 20-year-old hit a three-run, game-tying homer, a double and a walk from an 0-2 count and played well at third base.

“Pretty electric player,” Cash said. “I wish we would have somehow got a win. Because it would have been in large part for his contributions.”

The way things are going for the Rays, even Franco’s dazzling debut wasn’t enough.

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