ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Wander Franco, Randy Arozarena and the young, exciting Tampa Bay Rays are off and running again.
Franco had three hits, reigning AL Rookie of the Year Arozarena singled twice, and Francisco Mejía snapped an eighth-inning tie with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly that gave the defending AL East champions a 2-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles in their season opener Friday.
“Pretty exciting,” manager Kevin Cash said after using seven pitchers and 12 of 13 position players on the opening day roster to get win No. 1.
“I mean, there’s a lot of different characters and they can all get there differently, but there is a lot of athleticism out there,” Cash added. “Whether it’s throwing across the infield, running down the line or hitting the ball 450 feet, it’s fun to watch them.”
Franco started the winning rally with his third hit, a single to right off reliever Dillon Tate (0-1). It was the 21-year-old budding star’s first game since signing a $182 million, 11-year contract in the offseason. He batted .288 with seven homers and 39 RBIs in 70 games as a rookie.
“I was able to make the adjustment, and at the time that was something we needed,” Franco said through an interpreter. “Luckily, we got the victory out of it.”
Pinch-hitter Ji-Man Choi drew a walk and Arozarena beat out an infield single to load the bases against right-hander Jorge Lopez. After Brandon Lowe hit into a force play at the plate that took Franco off the bases, Mejía lifted his sacrifice fly to left field.
“They got a swinging bunt single, safe at first base, cost us the game,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said of the speedy Arozarena’s second hit. “Bad luck on our part.”
Andrew Kittredge (1-0), the fifth of seven Tampa Bay pitchers, worked one inning. Lowe drove in the Rays’ other run with a third-inning sacrifice fly, and offseason addition Brooks Raley got the final out in the ninth for the save.
Taking up where they left off last season, when they won a franchise-record 100 games and their second straight AL East crown, the Rays unveiled another championship banner and extended their dominance over the Orioles.
Baltimore lost 110 games in 2021, including 18 of 19 against Tampa Bay, which finished 48 games ahead of the last-place Orioles.
The Rays’s season ended on a sour note with a loss to Boston in the AL Division Series, but Franco’s long-term deal and the addition of former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber has Tampa Bay eyeing an October return.
Lowe delivered his sacrifice fly after Yandy Díaz, Franco and Arozarena singled to load the bases against starter John Means in the third. Baltimore tied it on Anthony Santander’s one-out, solo homer off Matt Wisler in the sixth.
Means made his second straight opening day start, throwing 84 pitches while allowing one run, six hits, a walk and striking out five over four innings.
“He gave up one run in four innings,” Hyde said. “We gave up two sac flies and lost the game.”
Lefty Shane McClanahan departed his first career opening day start with a 1-0 lead after escaping a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and limiting Baltimore to four hits, walking two and fanning seven in a 68-pitch, 4 1/3 inning stint before 25,025, which the Rays declared a sellout, although tickets weren’t sold for the upper deck.
Excluding 2020, when fans weren’t allowed inside Tropicana Field due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s the 16th consecutive season the Rays say they’ve sold out their home opener.
The Rays launched their 25th season, improving to 13-12 in openers. Franco, who turned 21 last month, became the youngest player in the majors to have three hits or more on opening day since Starlin Castro (21 years, 8 days) did it for the Chicago Cubs against Pittsburgh on April 1, 2011.
The Rays open the season with right-hander Shane Baz, who was projected to be part of the starting rotation, on the 10-day injured list after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his pitching elbow during spring training. The team also placed right-handed reliever Pete Fairbanks (right lat strain) on the 60-day IL while finalizing the opening day roster.
Middle game of the three-game weekend series, with right-hander Drew Rasmussen starting for the Rays and the Orioles countering with right-hander Jordan Lyles, who was 10-13 with a 5.15 ERA with the Texas Rangers last season. Rasmussen was 4-0 with a 2.44 ERA in 20 appearances, including 10 starts, after Tampa Bay obtained him from Milwaukee in a trade that sent Willy Adames to the Brewers last May.
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