Without a doubt, the series to watch this weekend is Baltimore-New York at Yankee Stadium. It’s a tremendous opportunity for the Orioles, who are just 3 games behind the Yankees in the American League East, and it’s a showcase for manager Buck Showalter, the former Mississippi State All-American (1977) who has worked some real magic with the perennially awful O’s. No one expected anything from Baltimore this season, the well-traveled Showalter’s third with the club. Baltimore won 69 games in 2011. Sports Illustrated predicted the Orioles would win 63 this year. They’ve already won 72. They’ve got their first postseason appearance since 1997 clearly in sight. Much of the credit has to go to Showalter. Yes, his managerial career has been somewhat mercurial. He has a .512 career winning percentage but has never managed to stay in one place more than four seasons. He was the AL manager of the year in 1994 with the Yankees but was gone after the ’95 season. He lasted just three years in Arizona with a club he built from scratch, a club that would win the World Series the year after he departed. He was AL manager of the year in 2004 with Texas but was gone after the ’06 season. If the once-proud O’s make the postseason this year, it’d be shocking to see Showalter leave anytime soon. Heck, they might erect a statue of him at Camden Yards. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Alex Presley has been recalled from Triple-A by Pittsburgh, which is still in the NL playoff hunt despite its recent struggles. The lefty-hitting outfielder was at .234 with eight homers when he was sent down.
We’ve seen the last of the Mississippi Braves for 2012 — unless you’re planning a trip to Mobile for the team’s final series. Attendance — an announced average of 2,904 — was up at Trustmark Park for the second straight year, but the team’s performance was pretty much a downer. Yes, there were shining moments from certain individuals. Andrelton Simmons jumped to the big leagues. Christian Bethancourt was invited to the All-Star Futures Game. Seven M-Braves went to the Southern League All-Star Game. Todd Cunningham may yet win the league batting title. Three different pitchers won league player of the week honors. But the team will miss the league playoffs for the fourth straight year. A big reason: The M-Braves were just 32-37 at home. To win a division title, you’ve got to clean up at your home park. The M-Braves’ pitching wasn’t a problem at the TeePee, which favors the guys on the mound. The staff ERA there was an excellent 3.12. But the hitting just never came around. The club, which finished with 13 home runs in those 69 home games, struggled much of the year to produce runs. The M-Braves averaged 3.75 per home game. Maybe that’s just a number, but this much is obvious: It was not enough. See ya next April. P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn delivered a solid outing on Monday in his first relief appearance since being yanked from the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation. Lynn pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing just an unearned run and earning a hold, as the Cardinals beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in a key National League Central series. Lynn, an All-Star this year, was winless in five straight starts before the demotion.
If it was a reward for his hot hitting, Mitch Moreland did not rest on his laurels. The former Mississippi State standout, who typically hits at the bottom of the stacked Texas order, found himself in the No. 2 spot on Sunday against Minnesota. He responded by banging out two hits, extending his hitting streak to nine games, though the Rangers fell 6-5. “I just thought that was kind of funny,” Moreland told reporters about seeing his name in the 2-hole. He certainly has been enjoying himself of late, batting .394 with 11 RBIs and his first career grand slam during the current streak, which has boosted his average to .297. The Rangers have their fingers crossed that Moreland can stay healthy. … Another thing different about Texas’ Sunday lineup: Former Mississippi Braves infielder Luis Hernandez started at shortstop. He was making a brief return to the big leagues as a roster fill-in but hopes to get called again in September. P.S. Kudos to Meridian Community College alumnus Cliff Lee, who went seven innings to beat Washington and drove in a run with a double in Philadelphia’s 4-1 victory. Lee is 3-7 now with a 3.67 ERA and is batting .200.
They played a wild one at Fenway Park in Boston on Saturday night, and a host of former Mississippi Braves contributed to the craziness of Kansas City’s 10-9, 12-inning victory. Mauro Gomez, filling in at first base for the traded Adrian Gonzalez, belted his first career home run, helping the Red Sox overcome a 3-0 deficit en route to a 9-3 lead. Gomez went 4-for-6 with three RBIs all told, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia had two hits and an RBI for the Red Sox. But KC rallied. Its bullpen, including Tim Collins and Francisley Bueno, held Boston scoreless over the last eight innings of play. Jeff Francoeur scored the game-winning run in the 12th. Bueno, who worked 1 2/3 innings, notched his first career win.
It might be a trivia question at some ballpark somewhere someday. Who was the first batter Roger Clemens faced in his curious “comeback” in the independent Atlantic League at age 50? The answer: Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Joey Gathright. Gathright, leading off for Bridgeport tonight, had a seven-pitch at-bat, striking out on a breaking ball out of the zone. The sullied Clemens, who last appeared in a major league game in 2007, pitched 3 1/3 innings for Sugar Land, leaving — perhaps forever — with a 1-0 lead. Despite what a blubbering Curt Schilling was saying during ESPN Classic’s broadcast, Clemens did not appear particularly sharp. His fastball looked very average and he bounced numerous breaking balls.
Did anyone really think Matt Harrison would be this good? The former Mississippi Braves standout flirted with a no-hitter (into the seventh) on Friday night while notching his 15th win for Texas. With a 3.04 ERA, the left-hander has emerged as the Rangers’ ace. … Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland went 2-for-4 in the Rangers’ 8-0 win over Minnesota on Friday and is up to .294 for the year. He’s a Cool Papa Bell Award contender, for sure. … Former M-Braves pitcher Scott Diamond, now with Minnesota, was slapped with a 6-game suspension plus a fine for throwing at Texas’ Josh Hamilton on Thursday. Diamond is appealing. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, the ex-Jackson Mets infielder, also was ejected from Thursday’s game. The fireworks began when Weir’s Roy Oswalt plunked the Twins’ Joe Mauer with a 3-0 pitch earlier in that game. … Saw this note in ESPN the Magazine: Oswalt has a .761 winning percentage and a 2.70 ERA in September/October regular season games. He has made two decent spot starts since his demotion to the Texas bullpen; maybe he’ll be a factor down the stretch. … Lance Lynn’s woes continued Friday when the former Ole Miss ace was KO’d by Cincinnati in the third inning. St. Louis did win the game, but Lynn has now had five straight sub-par outings. He is 13-5 but winless since July 27. … Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty, interviewed on MLB Network during Friday’s Reds-Cards game, didn’t sound very committed to calling up stolen base king Billy Hamilton of Taylorsville in September. Hamilton, now in Double-A, isn’t yet on the 40-man roster. … Brandon’s Tyler Moore hit his first career pinch homer on Friday in Washington’s loss to Philadelphia. The rookie from Mississippi State has seven bombs for the year. … Former MSU star Jonathan Papelbon notched the save — No. 28 — for the Phillies in that 4-2 win against the Nationals. … Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz pitched well for Colorado on Friday (two hits, two runs in five innings vs. Chicago) but still doesn’t have a W in his last eight appearances. … Former JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle’s Pittsburgh Pirates are walking the plank — again. They’ve lost five of six and 11 of 15. They’re not scoring (3.6 runs per game the last 15) or pitching (5.01 ERA the last 15) very well. … Wonder if Bill Hall might get a September call-up from Baltimore? The Nettleton native has 14 homers at Triple-A Norfolk; he could be weapon off the bench for MSU alum Buck Showalter’s Orioles, who are hanging around in the postseason race. … Lance Berkman is rehabbing his latest injury at Triple-A Memphis and hopes to be back with St. Louis by Sept. 1. The former Jackson Generals star, whose season has been wrecked by injuries, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he is pondering retirement after this season. He is 36.
Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton already has blown past the stolen base record, but some drama may yet unfold at Trustmark Park during the Pensacola-Mississippi series. The M-Braves’ Todd Cunningham and the Blue Wahoos’ Josh Fellhauer are battling for the Southern League batting title. Fellhauer, a left-handed hitting outfielder, goes into tonight’s game — the opener of a five-game set — with a league-best .313 mark, having gone 6-for-9 the last three days. Cunningham, who has more at-bats (442 to 310) and hits (138 to 97) than Fellhauer, is at .312. Cunningham, a switch-hitting outfielder, has had an eye-opening season: He’s scored 73 runs, driven in 49 and added six triples, three homers and 23 steals. A batting title would be a nice topper, as well as a first for the M-Braves since they arrived in Pearl. The Greenville Braves’ Napoleon Calzado led the SL in hitting (.359) in 2004, the franchise’s last season in South Carolina. P.S. Former M-Braves star Matt Young, recently signed by St. Louis, is hitting .391 through seven games at Triple-A Memphis. He was released by Detroit with a .212 average at Triple-A Toledo.
Mitch Moreland picked a bad day to hit his first grand slam. The Mississippi State product’s first career grannie came Wednesday in the same game in which Texas teammate Adrian Beltre hit three homers, two in one inning. But give Moreland his props: He was due a slam. He hit one last year that was wiped out by a rainout. Wednesday’s at-bat was his 26th with the bases loaded, and he cashed in with a big fly off Baltimore’s Tommy Hunter in a nine-run fourth inning. The Rangers, still in first place in the American League West, won the game 12-3. Moreland matched a career-high with five RBIs, and he now has 38 to go with his 13 homers and a .289 average.
Zack Cozart and Jonathan Papelbon will remember their first on-field meeting, though Papelbon might rather forget it. Cozart, the former Ole Miss standout, hit the first pitch he saw from Mississippi State alumnus Papelbon — a 94 mph fastball — out of Citizens Bank Park in the ninth inning on Tuesday night. Cozart’s 14th home run of the year broke a tie and propelled his Cincinnati Reds to a 5-4 win over Papelbon’s Philadelphia Phillies. Their college careers did not coincide, so this was their first encounter. Cozart had a plan against the veteran pitcher. “Any guy that has a fastball like that, you don’t want to fall behind,” Cozart told mlb.com. Papelbon, who has not fared well in non-save opportunities, took the loss to fall to 3-5. It was the fifth homer he has allowed this season. He is 27-for-30 in save chances but that’s small consolation in the Phillies’ disappointing year. Coazrt’s Reds, on the other hand, have opened up a 7 1/2-game lead in the National League Central. P.S. Former UM star Seth Smith returned to the Oakland lineup and went 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs as the A’s, chasing Texas in the American League West, beat Minnesota 4-1.
The Atlanta Braves are coming. Local Braves fans have been waiting for this for eight years. The Mississippi Braves announced today that the major league Braves will play a team of its minor league stars in an exhibition game at Trustmark Park in Pearl on March 30, 2013. Tickets will go on sale after the first of the year. Word to the wise: Get ’em early. There will be great demand. The New York Mets and Houston Astros both played exhibitions at Smith-Wills Stadium during Jackson’s Texas League days, and both games drew sellout crowds. The Mets played the JaxMets in 1986, the Astros took on the Generals in 1997. And if you believe in karma, there’s this: Both those teams were championship clubs. The Mets, of course, won the World Series in 1986. The Astros won the National League Central title in 1997, then lost in the NLDS to … the Braves. Atlanta has made the postseason only twice since the M-Braves took up residence at the TeePee in 2005, and the 2010 team got in as a wild card. A side trip to Pearl next spring might be a good thing.