Wander extends streak, ties Frank Robinson

September 30th, 2021

HOUSTON -- On Tuesday, Wander Franco waited until his final plate appearance of the night to extend his historic on-base streak. The Rays’ star rookie drew a walk in his final trip to the plate, but he said he had a different plan in mind for Wednesday night’s game against the Astros at Minute Maid Park.

“I’ll take a walk,” Franco said Wednesday afternoon through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Hopefully today, I can connect with a hit earlier.”

Much earlier, in fact. Franco swung at the first pitch he saw from Houston starter Luis Garcia, a fastball in the strike zone, and knocked it down the left-field line for a one-out double. The 20-year-old switch-hitter has reached safely in 43 consecutive games, tied with Frank Robinson for the longest on-base streak in AL/NL history by a player 20 years old or younger.

Robinson’s 43-game streak came for Cincinnati from May 26-July 7, 1956. Franco’s streak began on July 25, and since then he’s climbed past a bunch of Hall of Famers -- Ken Griffey Jr., Al Kaline, Mel Ott, Arky Vaughan and Mickey Mantle -- to match Robinson atop this list.

“The names that he's passed along the way, pretty special group,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Huge congrats to Wander. That's pretty special to be in the same sentence with certainly Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle.” 

The significance is not lost on Franco, either, even if he was born nearly 24 1/2 years after Robinson’s last game in the Majors. 

“I know who he is, but obviously I've never seen him play since I hadn't been born yet,” Franco said. “It’s very special.” 

Franco enjoyed an all-around excellent night on Wednesday as the Rays clinched home-field advantage until the World Series and broke the franchise’s single-season win record in a 7-0 victory over the Astros. The rookie went 3-for-5, boosting his average to .290 and his OPS to .830, and made a sensational leaping catch at shortstop for the first out of the ninth inning.

Franco’s streak is reaching a point where it’s not just historic because of his age. It’s the third-longest among rookies in American League history, behind Seattle’s Alvin Davis (47 in 1984) and New York’s Charlie Keller (44 in 1939). It’s the longest active streak in the Majors, the longest by a rookie in Rays history and the longest in the Modern Era for a rookie shortstop. Additionally, it’s the longest single-season streak in Tampa Bay history and only five games short of matching Tommy Pham’s team record set in 2018-19. 

After Wednesday’s performance, Franco has recorded five more hits (55) than swinging strikes (48) during his on-base streak. He’s struck out only twice in his last 78 plate appearances and four times in his last 119, and he’s had more walks (17) than strikeouts (15) over his past 43 games. 

“It’s just his discipline at the plate,” teammate Yandy Díaz said Wednesday afternoon. “Not a lot of rookies, let alone any kind of ballplayer, has that discipline.”