Remember the 2007 World Series? Boston wrapped up the championship when Jonathan Papelbon, a Mississippi State alumnus, struck out Ole Miss product Seth Smith of Colorado for the final out. Well, we’ve got alums from both schools in the World Series again, and they’re on opposite sides again. Former MSU star Mitch Moreland, a left-handed hitting first baseman for Texas, and ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn, a right-handed reliever for St. Louis, played against each other in college and there’s a fair chance they’ll face off in the series, which starts Wednesday in St. Louis. Moreland is just 2-for-19 in the postseason, and with no DH available for the first two games, he may be limited to pinch-hitting opportunities before the series shifts to Texas. Lynn, who made five scoreless appearances in the National League Championship Series, will get plenty of work for the Cardinals. A Lynn-Moreland showdown would certainly be fun to watch.
Though football is the main course this time of year for fans of college athletics, baseball devotees still have something to chew on. Especially in Mississippi. Fall ball is in full swing, and the state’s Big 3 Division I schools are busily tinkering with the recipe for a 2012 season that holds much promise for each. All three landed recruiting classes that were ranked in the top 20 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball magazine last month, and those players are now on campus. Ole Miss was No. 3, Southern Miss No. 13 and Mississippi State No. 20. The Rebels may have needed stronger reinforcements. Their 2011 season ended with a doubleheader loss to Arkansas that cost them a berth in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and an NCAA regional bid. Matt Snyder, Alex Yarbrough and Bobby Wahl return to the fold for Ole Miss (30-25), and there is much buzz about incoming freshmen like Pascagoula outfielder Senquez Golson (currently playing football), Sumrall catcher Austin Knight, Biloxi pitcher Hawtin Buchanan and Madison Central pitcher Josh Laxer. Golson, drafted in the eighth round of the major league draft by Boston, turned down a healthy signing bonus to play two sports at Ole Miss. All told, 11 members of the Rebels’ recruiting class were drafted, and nine are on campus. Southern Miss, which posted a 39-19 mark last season and made its ninth straight NCAA appearance, must replace five position players, three starting pitchers and its closer. A stout recruiting class will help. The Golden Eagles brought in, among others, George County outfielder/pitcher Mason Robbins (the state’s Mr. Baseball for 2011), Sumrall shortstop Connor Barron, Sumrall outfielder/pitcher Luke Lowery, Ridgeland pitcher Nick Johnson, Northwest Rankin pitcher Cody Livingston and Jones County Junior College pitcher Andrew Pierce. Barron was a third-round MLB draft pick by Florida. The newcomers join a group of returnees that includes outfielder Kameron Brunty, shortstop Ashley Graeter and catcher Jared Bales. Mississippi State went 38-25 last season and advanced to a Super Regional. The Bulldogs welcomed back outfielder C.T. Bradford (MVP of the Atlanta Regional last spring) and weekend starters Nick Routt and Chris Stratton and brought in a freshman crop that includes prized in-staters Brandon Woodruff, a pitcher/outfielder from Wheeler, and pitcher Jacob Lindgren from St. Stanislaus. The centerpiece of the class might be infielder Nick Flair of Belle Chasse, La., a prep All-American who batted .619 with 12 homers last season. Fall ball concludes with a showcase event at each school: Ole Miss’ Fall World Series is set for Oct. 26-28, State’s Bulldog World Series for Oct. 26-30. USM’s Black and Gold Game will be played on Oct. 30. Then they put the equipment away for a while. But not too long. Practice for 2012 begins shortly after the turn of the year, the games in mid-February.
St. Louis’ bullpen in general — and Lance Lynn in particular — has been a major factor in the Cardinals’ success in the National League Championship Series. Lynn, a rookie and onetime Ole Miss ace, has appeared in four of the five games and worked 4 1/3 scoreless innings. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound right-hander, wearing the odd No. 62, has allowed three hits and two walks but induced three ground-ball double plays from Milwaukee hitters. He pitched 1 1/3 innings on Friday, coming on in the seventh when the Cards’ lead was 5-1. They won 7-1 to take a 3-2 lead in the series that resumes Sunday in Milwaukee. Lynn posted a 3.12 ERA in 34 2/3 innings in the regular season. He went to the disabled list late with an oblique injury and was activated just before the NLCS. He has not disappointed.
There are no big surprises in Baseball America’s annual league-by-league prospect rankings, which appear in the Oct. 17-30 issue. Four 2011 Mississippi Braves made the Southern League Top 20, and three of them already have worn a big league uniform. Pitchers Arodys Vizcaino (No. 6) and Randall Delgado (7) played with Atlanta down the stretch, and shortstop Tyler Pastornicky (17) was promoted from Triple-A for the final game, though he didn’t get in. The other prospect, No. 19 Brett Oberholtzer, a lefty starter, was traded to Houston in the Michael Bourn deal. Andrelton Simmons, a shortstop, and Christian Bethancourt, a catcher, were the Nos. 4 and 10 prospects in the Class A Carolina League and figure to play in Pearl at some point next season. Right-hander Zeke Spruill cracked the CL list at No. 11, and he’s already an M-Braves alum, going 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA in seven starts at the end of 2011. Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz, who made his big league debut with Colorado in September, was rated the CL’s No. 2 prospect. Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton checked in at No. 2 on the Class A Midwest League chart after stealing 103 bases this season. He’s playing shortstop in the Cincinnati system now but apparently doesn’t have the arm for that position and may wind up at second base. The Reds already have Ole Miss product Zack Cozart in line to play short in the big leagues for the foreseeable future. Another former Rebels standout, right-hander David Goforth, went 0-4 with two saves and a 4.43 ERA in his debut season as a Milwaukee farmhand. But he was rated the No. 15 prospect in the rookie level Pioneer League. Former Meridian Community College and Mississippi State star Tyler Moore, who hit 31 homers this year, was on the “just missed” list in the Double-A Eastern League. He is in the Washington Nationals system.
P.S. Props to Southern Miss product Brian Dozier for earning the minor league player of the year honor in the Minnesota organization and to ex-Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman of the St. Louis Cardinals for being named National League comeback player of the year. … Saw where former Jackson Mets standout Mookie Wilson was not retained as first-base coach by the New York Mets. Yeah, that’ll sure make a big difference for them next season.
Texas, looking to recapture the momentum in the American League Championship Series, sends former Mississippi Braves left-hander Matt Harrison to the bump today in Game 4 at Comerica Park. Detroit cut the Rangers’ series lead to 2-1 with a 5-2 win on Tuesday night. Harrison won 14 games for the Rangers this season, working primarily as their No. 4 starter. He’s been in some big games before, and this qualifies as one. Harrison helped the M-Braves win a first-half title in the Southern League South Division back in 2007, before he was traded to the Rangers in the blockbuster Mark Teixeira deal. Harrison was just 8-11 in his two-season stint in Pearl, but he was much better than his record. In fact, he was dominant at times. A hard thrower with good command, he posted an ERA of 3.61 in 2006 as a midseason promotion and put up a 3.39 in ’07. In 194 innings with the M-Braves, he had 132 strikeouts and 51 walks.
P.S. A week into the Arizona Fall League season, ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, a Minnesota prospect, is batting .368 for the Mesa Solar Sox. Atlanta prospects — and possible 2012 M-Braves — Christian Bethancourt (.500) and Todd Cunningham (.417) are off to good starts for Surprise.
One pitch was all it took Monday night for Lance Lynn to get his first career postseason win. The Ole Miss product came on in the fifth inning and got Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks to hit into a double play — albeit on a questionable call at first base. That was the only pitch Lynn threw. He watched the rest of the game as St. Louis took a 12-3 victory and evened the National League Championship Series at 1-all. The score was 7-2 with the bases loaded and one out when Lynn got the call. The double play snuffed a potential Brewers rally. Since starter Edwin Jackson didn’t go five innings, Lynn was in line for the W. … Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals standout, had one of St. Louis’ 17 hits and scored one of the Cards’ 12 runs. Berkman is a .304 career hitter in 148 at-bats in the postseason. … Mitch Moreland, the Mississippi State alumnus from Amory, had a tough night for Texas. He hit into a double play with the winning run at third base in the ninth inning and finished Game 2 of the ALCS 0-for-4. He also made an error. But Nelson Cruz picked him up with that towering, game-winning grand slam in the 11th inning. The Rangers’ 7-3 win gives them a 2-0 lead in the series. Game 3 is tonight in Detroit.
P.S. Nettleton’s Bill Hall and Wiggins’ Fred Lewis, both of whom finished disappointing 2011 seasons in the minors, have become free agents. Lewis, a left-handed hitting outfielder with speed, will surely attract some interest. Hall, a right-handed hitting infielder with eroding skills, may find it tougher to land another major league job.
St. Louis activated former Ole Miss pitcher Lance Lynn for the National League Championship Series, and he pitched a scoreless sixth inning in Game 1 today. His stint came just after the Cardinals surrendered six runs in a game-changing fifth inning of the 9-6 loss to Milwaukee. Maybe they should have gone to Lynn sooner. … Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals standout, went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the losing cause for St. Louis. … Detroit did not activate former Generals infielder Carlos Guillen for the ALCS when Delmon Young was put on the disabled list. Guillen apparently is still unable to play because of a calf injury suffered late in the regular season. … In case you missed it, Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland was 1-for-3 on Saturday night in Game 1 of the ALCS, helping Texas beat the Tigers 3-2 in a rain-delayed contest. The second-year first baseman also had a hand in two double plays.
Allow 10 earned runs in 12 innings of work, which Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt combined to do in the National League Division Series for Philadelphia, and that’s what you get: a 7.50 ERA. And that’s bad. The Mississippi junior college products lost their starts — Lee in Game 2 and Oswalt in Wednesday’s Game 4 — and the Phillies now face a decisive Game 5 against St. Louis on Friday. Oswalt was given a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning but couldn’t hold it. He allowed a run in the first, two in the fourth and two more in the sixth in the 5-3 loss, his first as a starter in postseason play. The squirrel incident occurred in the fifth inning and, though it generated a lot of buzz, was really a non-factor. As Lance Berkman told mlb.com: “Where he’s from (Weir), that’s par for the course.” However, it’s safe to assume the Phillies don’t want to see any squirrels running across the field on Friday.
P.S. Joey Terdoslavich, a first baseman who hit 52 doubles and 20 homers in A-ball this season, has replaced second baseman Phil Gosselin as an Atlanta Braves representative in the Arizona Fall League. Terdoslavich is a good bet to play first for the Mississippi Braves in 2012.
Roy Oswalt goes to the mound today for Philadelphia in a potential National League Division Series clincher at St. Louis. Though Oswalt’s 2011 season was a bit shaky, he has been a horse in the postseason over his career. The ex-Holmes Community College standout from Weir is 5-1 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 playoff appearances; the one defeat came in relief (last year in the Phillies’ NLCS loss to San Francisco). Among Oswalt’s postseason W’s is a victory over St. Louis in Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS, a win that sent Houston to its first World Series. In his career, Oswalt is 9-10 with a 3.69 ERA in the regular season and 2-0, 3.27 in the postseason against the Cardinals, who will trot out some hitters who have good numbers against the 34-year-old right-hander. Albert Pujols has hit .316 against Oswalt with seven homers, according to MLB Network. Rafael Furcal is a .333 hitter against Oswalt, Yadier Molina .364. And Lance Berkman, the former Jackson Generals star, knows Oswalt well from their many years together as Astros. Oswalt has battled a bad back all year, but remember, in his last outing, in the next-to-last game of the regular season, he beat Atlanta in what was a critical game for the Braves. It’s all about starting pitching in the postseason, and this is Oswalt’s moment. You never know if another will come along.
P.S. Thumbs up to former Mississippi Braves lefty Matt Harrison, who got his first postseason win in Texas’ ALDS clinching victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Harrison struck out nine in five innings. … Thumbs down to former M-Braves outfielder Jordan Schafer, who was arrested on marijuana possession charges in Florida. Schafer, now with Houston, has been in trouble before. M-Braves fans will recall his 2008 suspension for a violation of MLB’s minor league drug policy. The Atlanta Braves may be happy that the enigmatic Schafer is someone else’s problem now.
Itawamba Community College product Desmond Jennings hit two home runs for Tampa Bay on Monday, but the blasts came in a losing cause against Texas in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. There was another homer from a player with Mississippi ties that was more meaningful. Delmon Young’s blast was the go-ahead run in Detroit’s 5-4 win over the New York Yankees in the other ALDS. Mississippi Braves fans might remember Young for the monstrous home run he hit over the center-field screen in 2005 as a member of the Montgomery Biscuits. But Young has an even more relevant Mississippi connection. His father, Larry, and brother, retired big leaguer Dmitri, were born in Vicksburg. Larry Young, who grew up as the son of a sharecropper in the 1960s, became a Navy fighter pilot and flight instructor and Delta pilot. Dmitri Young, a two-time All-Star, played 13 years in the majors and spent five of those with the Tigers, including their 2006 World Series year. Delmon Young was born in Montgomery, Ala., but went to high school in California, as did Dmitri. The Rays made Delmon the No. 1 overall pick in the draft in 2003. He has been traded twice, moving to Detroit this summer.