26 Sep

spirit of ’96

Jackson’s Texas League franchise won five pennants during its 25-year tenure at Smith-Wills Stadium, but none of the five championship runs had more compelling storylines than the last one. It was 20 years ago this month that the Generals, managed by Dave Engle, plowed through Tulsa and Wichita, going 7-1 overall, to win that title. There was something rare, something controversial and something very heartwarming over those 10 days in September. With future big leaguers Richard Hidalgo and Melvin Mora out with injuries, other stars stepped up and unexpected heroes emerged. All in all, it was a wild ride that started at Smith-Wills and ended in Wichita’s Lawrence-Dumont Stadium. In the opener of the best-of-5 TL East Division series, the Gens got a four-hitter from future big leaguer John Halama and won the game 2-1 on the weirdest of walk-offs. With the bases loaded and one out in the ninth, Tulsa’s left fielder, Mike Murphy, inexplicably caught a deep fly ball, clearly in foul territory, off the bat of Nate Peterson, enabling Russ Johnson to tag and jog home with the winning run. In Game 2, Jackson got a leadoff home run from Buck McNabb – his first bomb in three years – and another homer from another unlikely source, former Ole Miss star Kary Bridges, to take a 6-1 win. (Footnote: Bridges had returned to Jackson from Triple-A just before the playoffs started as a roster replacement for Mora.) Edgar Ramos, who threw a no-hitter during the season, got the victory in Game 2. The series shifted to Tulsa, where the Generals lost Game 3 and also lost closer Manuel Barrios for one postseason game (plus two games in 1997) for intentionally hitting a batter. At least they thought it was a one-game postseason suspension. The Gens took the series with a 7-2 victory in Game 4 as Scott Elarton, Houston’s first-round pick from 1994 making his first Double-A appearance, shut down the Drillers. Then came the controversy. The team learned before the opener of the best-of-7 TLCS at Smith-Wills that Barrios would be suspended for the first two games against Wichita, contrary to league president Tom Kayser’s original ruling. (Footnote: The Gens were miffed, to say the least, that Kayser had arbitrarily changed his mind, issued a release on his new ruling and never called Generals officials with an explanation.) Behind the pitching of Halama and Tim Kester and a couple of key hits by Bridges, the Generals beat the Wranglers 4-1 to open the series. In Game 2, it was Ramos again with a sterling start, backed by the hitting of Peterson, who homered and drove in three runs. (Footnote: Peterson also was hit in the helmet by a pitch with Kayser in attendance; there was no ejection or suspension.) Game 3 took a weird turn, as a rusty Barrios blew a 3-0 lead in the ninth after Jamie Walker had worked a brilliant first eight. Donovan Mitchell, playing center field in the playoffs for the first time in his career, threw out a runner at the plate to preserve the tie. (Footnote: Mitchell had flown home to New York after Game 2 to see his newborn son, Donovan, Jr., then flew back in time for Game 3.) The resilient Gens won another walk-off on ninth-inning hits by McNabb, Bridges and Tim Forkner. The clincher came in Wichita, where Elarton, shaking off three unearned runs in the first inning, kept the Wranglers in check and the Gens scored five in the fourth inning en route to a 7-3 win. Al Probst homered, and Forkner, Peterson and Mitch Meluskey had RBI hits. While the team scored 26 runs in the finals, it was pitching that really stole the show. The Gens put up an 0.50 ERA in the series. (Footnote: The pitching coach in 1996 was Jim Hickey, who has held the same job with the Tampa Bay Rays for several years now.) The title was Jackson’s second in four years, but the club would not make the TL postseason again, coming up short in the last game of their last season (1999) at Smith-Wills.

25 Sep

highs and lows

It was a day of firsts for Hunter Renfroe. The former Mississippi State standout, batting cleanup for San Diego for the first time on Saturday, hit his first MLB home run and his first double. Renfroe’s memorable homer, in his fourth game, came against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner, no less, a solo shot off a 93-mph fastball on a 1-2 pitch. Renfroe, playing right field, also committed his first error, though it was inconsequential in the Padres’ loss. … Billy Hamilton has been knocked from his perch atop the MLB stolen base leaders. While the Taylorsville High product has been idled by injury, Milwaukee’s Jonathan Villar has caught and passed him. Villar got his 59th bag on Saturday. Hamilton, out for the season (oblique injury) in Cincinnati, will finish with 58, a career-high. He got 57 last year and 56 in 2014. … Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson continues to rake for Tampa Bay, the one American League East team with no postseason shot. Dickerson, in his first year with the Rays, is batting .386 over his last 15 games with five homers, 10 RBIs and seven runs. With 23 homers on the season, he is one shy of his career-best, set two years ago in Colorado. His 36 doubles are already a best.

24 Sep

isn’t this fun?

Of the 14 games with postseason implications played in the big leagues on Friday, the one deserving the most attention took place in Oakland. Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman threw six perfect innings for the A’s before Texas put together a rally in the seventh and went on to a 3-0 win that clinched the American League West title. Ex-Bulldogs star Mitch Moreland took an 0-for-3 for the Rangers, but we can assume that didn’t put a damper on his celebration. … In Chicago, former Ole Miss standout Chris Coghlan contributed an RBI double for the Cubs as they clinched home-field advantage throughout the National League playoffs by beating wild card contender St. Louis 5-0. … In Pittsburgh, the wild card hopeful Pirates, with State product Adam Frazier driving in two runs, knocked off Washington 6-5 in 11 innings, denying the Nationals in their bid to clinch the NL East. … At Tampa Bay, former Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz worked five strong innings for Boston as the red-hot Red Sox, closing in on the AL East title, beat the Rays 2-1 for their ninth straight win. Pomeranz is now 3-5 for the BoSox. … In Detroit, Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Jarrod Dyson smacked his seventh triple of the year and picked up two RBIs, but Kansas City was dealt a crushing blow by Detroit in an 8-3 loss. Jackson Mets alum Ned Yost’s defending World Series champs appear to be toast in 2016. The Tigers, meanwhile, remain very much in the playoff hunt. … In Toronto, former JaxMets star John Gibbons watched his Blue Jays pummel the New York Yankees 9-0, and in Baltimore, ex-State standout Buck Showalter and his Orioles got a lift from Mark Trumbo’s walk-off homer in a 3-2 win against Arizona. And in Miami, Brian Snitker’s surging Atlanta Braves won their seventh straight, damaging the Marlins’ NL wild card chances with a 3-2 victory. Former Mississippi Braves closer Mauricio Cabrera got the save, with ex-M-Braves star Mallex Smith making a diving catch in left field to end the game. Snitker, who managed the first M-Braves team in 2005, has done a good job with the last-place Braves and is building a strong case for returning as manager in 2017.

23 Sep

a funny thing happened …

For the first time in four years, former Itawamba Community College star Tim Dillard is back in The Show. Well, sorta. The 33-year-old Dillard, who pitched in Triple-A this season, was summoned to Milwaukee this week not as a relief pitcher but as a “comedic relief specialist.” That is, he joined the Brewers’ social media team (#BrewersLastCallUp), not their bullpen. Dillard has gained a certain measure of fame recently as the producer/star of hilarious videos, and the Brewers wanted to make use of his talents at the big-league level. “There’s no doubt that Tim has a skill set that you won’t find anywhere else,” Brewers GM David Stearns told mlb.com. As a pitcher, Dillard also has some ability. He has logged 527 games in pro ball, including 73 appearances in MLB, in a career that dates back to 2003. His minor league ledger shows a 79-54 record and 3.85 ERA. A graduate of Saltillo High, Dillard is the son of former Ole Miss and big league star Steve Dillard.

22 Sep

numbers of interest

Hunter Renfroe’s debut with San Diego on Wednesday night – the former Mississippi State star drew an intentional walk in his only at-bat – runs the number of Mississippians (natives or college alums) who have debuted in MLB in 2016 to nine. The others: Chad Girodo, Chris Stratton, Tim Anderson, Cody Reed, Adam Frazier, Mike Mayers, JaCoby Jones and Jonathan Holder. … The number of Mississippians to play in the big leagues this year hit 27 with Renfroe’s arrival. Three other 40-man roster members have been on the disabled list most of the season. … The Magnolia State group has hit a collective 147 home runs, including ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson’s 22nd on Wednesday. Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier leads the way with 41, and former State standout Mitch Moreland also has 22. The 147 includes the one hit by pitcher Drew Pomeranz, the Ole Miss product, who went deep while with San Diego; he is now in Boston. … Kudos: Former Mississippi Braves star Evan Gattis hit his 100th career homer on Wednesday. He has hit 57 of those with Houston the last two years; the first 43 came in an Atlanta uniform.

21 Sep

he’s got name

There is something about the name that gets your attention: Delvin Zinn. Some clever headlines in that name. Of course, he’s got game, too. The Chicago Cubs certainly seem to think so, having drafted Pontotoc native Zinn twice. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound shortstop, who made his pro debut on July 28 for the Arizona League Cubs, is still in Arizona for the Instructional League season. His numbers in the AZL weren’t much to shout about. In just 11 games, he batted .182 with one extra-base hit. Zinn was chosen in the 23rd round in June out of Itawamba Community College, where he batted .411 as a freshman this past season with 34 RBIs, 41 runs and seven steals. Scouting reports rave about his defense. Drafted by the Cubs in the 28th round in 2015 out of Pontotoc High, Zinn opted to go to Mississippi State, where he took part in fall ball before transferring to ICC, where he was eligible to be drafted again after his freshman season. Zinn, just 19, isn’t yet among the Cubs’ rated prospects, but he is one to watch in an organization that appears to be set up for long-term success. … Also on the Cubs’ IL roster are left-handers Wyatt Short, drafted out of Ole Miss this year, and Justin Steele, a 2014 fifth-rounder from George County. Southaven native Short (see previous post) had a very good debut in the Northwest League. Steele, the highest-drafted prep pitcher from Mississippi since Matt Butler in 1999, went 5-7 with a 5.00 ERA in the Class A Midwest League this season. Scouting reports say the Cubs’ No. 23 prospect is still harnessing command of his three pitches. P.S. Former DeSoto Central All-Stater Austin Riley is on Atlanta’s IL roster; the third baseman is coming off a 20-homer year at low Class A Rome. Outfield prospect Braxton Davidson, who could be with the Mississippi Braves in 2017, also is in Florida, along with pitchers Carlos Salazar and Chad Sobotka, two other likely candidates for Pearl next year.

21 Sep

in focus

Adam Frazier was a catalyst for Pittsburgh in a 6-3 win at Milwaukee on Tuesday night that kept the Pirates’ faint playoff hopes alive. The Mississippi State alum, batting leadoff and playing left field, went 3-for-5 and scored twice. He led off the game with a single off Matt Garza and scored the first run as the Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Frazier doubled and scored in the fifth, when Pittsburgh again scored twice to go up 5-2. Frazier, a versatile rookie who doesn’t play regularly, is batting .351 with two homers, nine RBIs and 17 runs in 55 games. Pittsburgh, managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, is 75-75, 4.5 games out in the National League wild card chase with four teams ahead of it. P.S. Ex-State star Hunter Renfroe, the Pacific Coast League MVP, reportedly has been called up by the San Diego Padres and could make his MLB debut tonight against Arizona at Petco Park. … T.J. House, the Picayune High product, has been designated for assignment by Cleveland, which needed to clear a roster spot for prospect Adam Plutko. Left-hander House spent most of 2016 in Triple-A, appearing in just four big league games. House, who’ll be 27 later this month, was 5-3 with a 3.98 ERA for Columbus and pitched even better after he moved to the bullpen in July. He is 5-7, 4.44 over parts of three MLB seasons. He’ll pitch again, somewhere.