By FRED GOODALL AP Sports Writer

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Budding star Wander Franco had three hits, Francisco Mejía snapped an eighth-inning tie with a pinch-hit sacrifice fly and the AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 in their season opener Friday.

Franco started the winning rally with a single to right off reliever Dillon Tate. It was the 21-year-old’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.

READ MORE: How To Avoid Heat-Related Illness This Blistering Weekend

Pinch hitter Ji-Man Choi drew a walk and reigning AL Rookie of the Year Randy Arozarena beat out an infield single to load the bases against right-hander Jorge Perez (0-1). 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.

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 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.

READ MORE: Person Shot At Owings Mills Pizza Shop

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.

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.

TRAINER’S ROOM

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.

UP NEXT

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.

MORE NEWS: Local Dance Group Invites You To Groove At Jewish Community Center Of Greater Baltimore Block Party

(© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)