Tough to pick against Texas in the World Series. San Francisco has good pitching. With Meridian Community College alumnus Cliff Lee fronting its staff, Texas has better pitching. The Giants have some thump in the lineup with Buster Posey, Aubrey Huff and the surprising Cody Ross. As for the Rangers, well, former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland, their No. 9 hitter, summed it up in an interview before the first postseason game was played. “We’ve got some very talented hitters, top to bottom,” he said. “The middle of our order, I don’t know of a better one. … We’ve got some guys who can change a game very quickly.” The New York Yankees trot out a pretty impressive 1 to 9. But Texas outscored the Yanks 38-19 in their six-game ALCS. The Rangers hit .304 as a team. Moreland, the rookie first baseman, hit .389 with three RBIs. (He just looks like he belongs, at the plate and in the field.) The Rangers’ ability to run (9-for-10 in steals vs. New York) is an added bonus. The Rangers win in six.
Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel should be second-guessed for his decision to put right-hander Roy Oswalt in the game in the ninth inning on Wednesday night. Yes, Oswalt, the former Holmes Community College star from Weir, volunteered for the duty, but it was Manuel’s call. It’s always a gamble to put a player in a role with which he is not very familiar, and Manuel lost the bet. Oswalt, brilliant as a starter for the Phillies all year and in the postseason, wasn’t so good in relief. Coming on in a tie game against San Francisco, just three days after starting Game 2, Oswalt threw 18 pitches, 13 for strikes. But his stuff wasn’t fooling the Giants. All four balls put in play were hit hard, including singles by Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey and Juan Uribe’s game-winning sacrifice fly. Now down 3-1 in the best-of-7 National League Championship Series, the Phillies can only hope Oswalt gets another chance to pitch. As the starter in Game 6, if there is one.
A check of the Arizona Fall League statistics shows a pair of possible 2011 Mississippi Braves are off to good starts. Tyler Pastornicky, the M-Braves’ shortstop at the end of last season, is hitting .462 with two RBIs and three runs in 13 at-bats through Tuesday. Pastornicky hit .254 with two homers and 15 RBIs in 38 games for Mississippi after he was acquired from Kansas City. He’s been playing second base for the Phoenix Desert Dogs but is likely to be back at short in Pearl next spring. Outfielder Cory Harrilchak, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound lefty hitter, was batting .286 for the Desert Dogs and is in their lineup today. Harrilchak played at two levels of A-ball in 2010 and hit .269 at Myrtle Beach. He could be somewhere in Mississippi’s outfield next year.
P.S. Pearl River Community College’s 2010 Hall of Fame class, which will be honored on Saturday in Poplarville, includes Rhyne Hughes, a former Wildcats first baseman who made his major league debut with Baltimore this season.
Just to throw this out there: Marcus Thames might be a good fit for the Atlanta Braves in 2011. The Louisville native and former East Central Community College star, now with the New York Yankees, will be a free agent after the season. The Braves need a power-hitting outfielder, and Thames is that. He hit 12 homers in limited at-bats this season and had a .288 average to boot. It’s not likely that the Braves will pursue big-name free agent outfielders Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford, so Thames makes some sense. He won’t be pricey. And though he’s been primarily a DH the last couple years, he can play left field, certainly as well as Matt Diaz or Melky Cabrera. The Braves ought to consider him.
Columbus is honoring the life and baseball career of the late Sam Hairston this weekend. It’s a much deserved celebration of one of the best players the state has produced but one who remains largely unsung. Some may know him as the patriarch of the only black three-generation major league family: His sons Jerry and John were big leaguers, and Jerry’s sons Jerry Jr. and Scott are current members of the San Diego Padres. Sam Hairston, who said in a 1990s interview that he was born in Crawford, just outside Columbus, got only five at-bats in the majors with the 1951 Chicago White Sox. But in the Negro Leagues, where he launched his career in the days of segregated pro baseball, he was a star. He won a Negro American League Triple Crown with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1950, hitting .424 with 17 homers and 71 RBIs in a 70-game season (according to James A Riley’s Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues). Hairston also won a league MVP award in the integrated minor leagues after hitting .310 with 102 RBIs in 1953 with Colorado Springs and later added a batting title with a .350 average in 1955 for the same club. He played until 1960 and later served as a hitting coach for the Double-A Birmingham Barons. He died Oct. 31, 1997. Sam Hairston Baseball Park at Weyerhauser Field, near his childhood home, is to be dedicated today with a Mississippi Department of Archives and History marker planted on the site. Another historic marker will be erected at the Queen City Hotel, where Negro Leaguers stayed when playing in or passing through Mississippi.
The American League Championship Series, which will feature several Mississippi connections, starts Friday. That’s three days after Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee’s masterful performance for Texas in Game 5 of the ALDS. It’ll have been six days since East Central CC’s Marcus Thames hit his first postseason homer, helping the New York Yankees complete a sweep in their ALDS. The NLCS doesn’t start until Saturday. The two NLDS ended on Sunday and Monday. This extended downtime, created largely by TV commitments (tail wagging dog), is a problem for baseball. As many as three World Series games could be played in November. They’ve got to figure out a way to compress the regular season and the playoffs. … Anyway, we are witnessing the stuff of legend by Lee. With two wins in the ALDS, he is now 6-0 in postseason play. He’ll match up with the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS and Game 7 if it goes that far. Thames, the right-handed half of New York’s DH platoon, will get to face the left-handed Lee at least once. Stay tuned for that. Both have been to the World Series before, Lee with Philadelphia last year, Thames with the Detroit Tigers in 2006. Neither got a ring.
The NJCAA is proudly trumpeting the fact that it has 28 alumni on the postseason rosters of the eight MLB teams still playing. Among those are four MACJC products: Meridian’s Cliff Lee (Texas), Holmes’ Roy Oswalt (Philadelphia), East Central’s Marcus Thames (New York Yankees) and Itawamba’s Desmond Jennings (Tampa Bay). Jennings, the fleet outfielder with the football background, played only a handful of regular season games for the Rays; his inclusion on the postseason roster was something of a surprise. Maybe that means he’ll do something memorable.
P.S. For the second straight year, Jarrett Hoffpauir was a waiver claim. The former Southern Miss infielder was snapped up by San Diego after Toronto took him off its roster. The Blue Jays, who snatched him from St. Louis after last season, didn’t give Hoffpauir much of a shot. … Vicksburg’s Taylor Tankersley apparently cleared waivers with Florida and was assigned to its Triple-A club. Tankersley, a lefty reliever coming off surgery in 2009, didn’t pitch well in a brief big league stint this year.
Jeff Francoeur, the former Mississippi Braves star, made his first postseason appearance since 2005 today. He hit an RBI double and scored a run in the second inning for Texas as the Rangers beat Tampa Bay 5-1 in the opener of their best-of-5 series. Francoeur, who has endured a lot of frustration since he broke in with such a splash with Atlanta back in ’05, had something of a resurgence with the Rangers after they acquired him from the New York Mets at the end of August. Francoeur didn’t play regularly — 15 games, 53 at-bats — but hit .340 with two homers and 11 RBIs in a Texas uniform. Good to see him with a smile on his face in the dugout; he’s a good guy and was due for some good times. He hit just .249 overall in 2010. His production was really all former Meridian Community College standout Cliff Lee needed to subdue the Rays. Lee had a rocky first inning, then sailed through the next six. He allowed just five hits, one run and struck out 10.
As usual, there are sprinkles of Mississippi flavor all over the MLB playoffs. Former Mississippi Braves aplenty dot the Atlanta roster, including Brian McCann, Jason Heyward and Tommy Hanson. Plus, there’s ex-Jackson General Billy Wagner, who famously struck out the side in the ninth in Sunday’s crucial victory. And don’t forget pitching coach Roger McDowell (ex-Jackson Mets hurler) and third-base coach Brian Snitker (M-Braves manager in 2005). San Francisco has Eli Whiteside (Delta State) as its backup catcher. Roy Oswalt (Holmes Community College) is a key piece of the strong rotation for Philadelphia, which has ex-JaxMets manager Sam Perlozzo coaching third. Cliff Lee (Meridian CC), Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State), Julio Borbon (Starkville native) and Jeff Francoeur (former M-Brave) are with Texas, where ex-JaxMet manager Clint Hurdle serves as hitting coach. Former Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey oversees the staff at Tampa Bay, as he did during the Rays’ World Series run in 2008. Minnesota is managed by ex-JaxMets player Ron Gardenhire, and his pitching coach is former OJMs pitcher Rick Anderson. Matt Tolbert (Ole Miss) has a chance to make the Twins’ roster as a utility man. The New York Yankees feature Marcus Thames (East Central CC) and Lance Berkman (ex-General), who usually share DH duties. All stirred together, this is gonna be good.
P.S. Matt Maloney (Ole Miss) got the win for Cincinnati in its season finale, but it’s unlikely he’ll make the postseason squad.
The highlight show continues for Amory’s Mitch Moreland. The Texas Rangers rookie hit two more home runs on Friday and scored a third run on a botched pickoff play by the Los Angeles Angels. Former Mississippi State star Moreland now has nine homers (and 25 RBIs) in his short time in the big leagues; the lefty swinger has got to be a lock for the postseason roster by now. Moreland hit just 17 homers in his career at MSU, where he also pitched. … Another MSU product, Craig Tatum, a backup catcher for Baltimore, made the most of a rare start Friday by going 2-for-4 with three RBIs against Detroit. He’s hitting .281. Orioles manager Buck Showalter, yet another MSU alum, has to be impressed by Tatum’s work with the bat. Defense actually is his forte. … One bright byproduct of Atlanta’s disheartening loss to Philadelphia: Former Mississippi Brave J.C. Boscan finally got in a game. He walked and scored a run in the Braves’ attempted ninth-inning rally.
P.S. Nice story in Sports Illustrated (Oct. 4 issue) about former Jackson General Billy Wagner, now Atlanta’s closer. Wagner reveals some resentments about Houston, the team that originally drafted him in the first round. He also leaves no doubt that this is his final season. He’s had a great run; he rates a spot on any all-time former Jackson Mets/Generals team.