Franco’s streak suggests he’ll be a star

by Gary Shelton on September 30, 2021

in general

Franco has become one the Rays' best hitters.

Thursday, 4 a.m.

By reputation, he could be a hard man, a fierce competitor. But even Frank Robinson would love Wander Franco.

He'd love the energy. He'd love the charisma. They'd love the little smile of his after Franco reaches base...again. Most of all, he'd love the kid's talent.

And so you get the idea that, somewhere, Robinson is grinning over the fact that Franco tied his 65-year-old record Wednesday night. Franco reached base for the 43rd straight game, a record for baseball players aged 20 and under. Along the way, Franco passed the streaks of Mickey Mantle and Arky Vaughn and Mel Ott. All of them, like Robinson, are Hall of Famers.

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 "The names that he’s passed along the way are a special group," said Rays' manger Kevin Cash. "That's special to be in the same sentence as Frank Robison and Mickey Mantle."

And that's the significance of the streak. It is the heralding of greatness, the announcement that something big is coming. Most kids -- even those talented enough to reach the majors by age 20 -- don't have the game to play every day, let alone find their way to first base every day.

Odd. Remember when this streak started? Franco was hitting .221 through his first 23 games, and some wondered if he was ready yet. But since then he has been one of the Rays' better hitters -- he's hit .321 through this streak. He looks every bit of the real deal.

Franco's 43rd game in the streak came on a night the Rays beat the Houston Astros, setting a franchise record for wins and clinching home field for the American League playoffs. And , as is often the case, there were plenty of moments worth discussing.

-- Starter Drew Rasmussen allowed just one hit -- in the fifth -- and went five shutout innings.

-- Brandon Lowe hit his 35th homer, a two-run shot.

-- Ji-Man Choi hit a homer, a three-run shot.

-- And, one of the more intriguing moves came when the Rays inserted rookie Luis Patino into the game as a relief pitcher. Patino threw two shutout innings and looked comfortable, and perhaps hinted at playoff plans.

But the night belonged to Franco, who had three hits. He doubled on the first pitch he saw, taking most of the pressure off.

Oh, you want to get technical? Robinson's 43 games were probably slightly better. He hit .340 in his streak. He had a higher slugging percentage and a better on-base percentage. But that's not the category. If Franco gets a hit tonight, the all-time record is his (for the record, Franco had has more doubles, more triples, more RBI and fewer strike outs. Robinson had one more hitless game (10-9) than Franco.

The best thing about Franco, of course, is that he's present-tense. We know that Robinson ended up as rookie of the year in 1956 with 38 homers. We know he was an MVP of both leagues. We know he spent years as a manager.

Franco? You get to grow up with him. You get to see if he will become a truly special player. If you have seen him lately, how can you doubt it?

For the Rays, of course, it was a big enough win otherwise. Never have the Rays won more than this season's 98 games (with four to go).

"We put ourselves in a really good spot with six games to play," Cash said. "You want to get in, you want to win the East, and if you get the chance, you want to do what they just accomplished."

The Rays play their final regular season game against the Astros tonight at 7:10 p.m. Ryan Yarbrough will start for the Rays against Lance McCullers.


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