Tony Sipp vs. Mitch Moreland. Today’s Houston-Boston game didn’t turn on this fifth-inning confrontation between Mississippi natives, but it was a big moment. Moreland, the lefty-hitting first baseman for the Red Sox, drove a 2-1 pitch to the opposite field for a two-run double against Sipp, the lefty reliever for the Astros. The runs stretched Boston’s lead to 5-0. As the Fox commentator said during the broadcast, “It’s looking more and more like this’ll be the day the Red Sox wrap up the flag.” Indeed, with Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz (17-6) delivering a razor sharp six-plus innings (one run, three hits, two walks, three strikeouts), Boston won 6-3 and clinched the American League East, sending the rival New York Yankees into the wild card game against Minnesota. Sipp, the Pascagoula native and Moss Point High alum, was brought in – despite his 5.84 ERA — specifically to face Moreland with runners at first and second and one out. The runners pulled off a double steal before Moreland, the pride of Amory High, stroked his 34th double of the season and picked up RBIs No. 78 and 79. It was a moment to remember for Moreland, who has had a bunch of them this year. And it’s not even October. P.S. Andrew Benintendi’s steal in the fifth inning was his 20th of the year, making him the third Boston rookie to post a 20-homer/20-steal campaign. The others were Nomar Garciaparra and Vicksburg native Ellis Burks, who did it in 1987.
Drew Pomeranz, who has been outstanding for Boston, can put an exclamation point on his season today against Houston at Fenway Park. The left-hander out of Ole Miss, who is 16-6 with a 3.38 ERA, goes to the bump for a Red Sox club that needs a win to claim the American League East championship. The Red Sox could also take the crown if New York loses at home to Toronto; both games start at 12:05 CDT. Asked if this is the biggest game of his career, Pomeranz told the Boston Herald: “I guess, yeah, but all these games have been big. We’re in a good position here.” Well, maybe. The Astros, runaway AL West champs, are on another roll with five straight wins. Behind former Mississippi Braves standout Charlie Morton, Houston won 3-2 on Friday, dropping the Red Sox to 1-4 on their current homestand. Pomeranz, coming off a rough start against Toronto on Monday, will face an array of right-handed hitting thumpers – see Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Alex Bregman – taking aim at the Green Monster in left field. Ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland, who broke up Morton’s perfect game with a double in the fifth inning on Friday, likely will be in Boston’s lineup against Astros righty Lance McCullers Jr. (7-3, 4.01). Could be a wild afternoon at both Fenway and Yankee Stadium. P.S. Meanwhile, in the cellar of the National League West, far from the spotlight, former Mississippi State teammates Chris Stratton and Hunter Renfroe faced off Friday when San Francisco hosted San Diego. This one belonged to Stratton. The rookie right-hander threw 6 2/3 shutout innings to lead the Giants to an 8-0 victory at AT&T Park. He retired Renfroe three times, punching him out twice. Stratton, a first-round pick in 2012, is 4-4 with a 3.68 ERA and will head to spring training as a strong candidate for a job in the Giants’ rotation. Renfroe, a first-round pick in 2013, went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and saw his average dip to .229. The rookie right fielder, who has 25 homers, may have to battle for the starting job next spring.
The St. Louis Cardinals’ playoff hopes ended on Thursday, and Ole Miss product Lance Lynn’s tenure with the team apparently is done, as well. “It’s not a good feeling,” Lynn told The Associated Press. The Cardinals lost 2-1 in 11 innings to what a St. Louis newspaper called the “Cubs’ scrubs.” Chicago clinched the National League Central on Wednesday and rested most of its starters. Lynn, a free agent after this season, his 10th in the Cardinals’ organization, went to the post for the 33rd time and worked five innings, allowing three hits, four walks and one run. He was saddled with his 14th no-decision. After missing 2016 following Tommy John surgery, Lynn finishes 11-8 with a 3.43 ERA. … Elsewhere on Thursday: Former Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went 2-for-5 with his 27th homer as Tampa Bay dealt New York a 9-6 loss that damaged the Yankees’ chances of an American League East title. They’re 3 back of Boston with three to play and can only hope to force a playoff. Mississippi State alum Jonathan Holder yielded hits to the only two batters he faced in the Rays’ pivotal seven-run fifth. … Ex-State standout Mitch Moreland’s 22nd homer was just eyewash in Boston’s 12-2 drubbing at the hands of Houston. … Milwaukee stayed alive in the NL wild card battle with a 4-3 win over Cincinnati, defying the efforts of Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton (1-for-4, 59th steal), UM alum Stuart Turner (1-for-4) and Northwest Mississippi CC product Cody Reed (one clean inning).
Minnesota lost Wednesday night, but Brian Dozier and his Twins mates still enjoyed a postgame celebration. Boston won, but Mitch Moreland and Co. can’t pop the bubbly just yet. There was gloom in Milwaukee for Brandon Woodruff and the Brew Crew, which is running out of chances for a party. The Twins, despite a 4-2 loss to Cleveland, clinched the second wild card in the American League because Los Angeles lost to Chicago. (East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had a game-tying hit in the sixth for the White Sox, who won on Nicky Delmonico’s 10th-inning homer.) “This is a totally different team,” ex-Southern Miss star Dozier told ESPN, referencing the 2016 Twins, who lost 103 games. “It is a totally different mindset.” In the wild card game, Minnesota will visit either New York or Boston. The Red Sox beat Toronto 10-7 – former Mississippi State standout Moreland had a hit and scored in a game-breaking five-run third inning and later added his 21st home run – to remain 3 games up on the Yankees in the battle for the AL East throne. Boston faces a four-game home series against AL West champ Houston to close the season. In the National League, the Chicago Cubs won at St. Louis to clinch the Central Division, eliminating the Brewers, who lost 6-0 at home to Cincinnati. MSU product Woodruff took the loss, yielding the six runs in three-plus innings. “Yeah, it stings a little bit more, especially at the end of the year in this type of race,” Woodruff told The Associated Press. The Brewers are hanging by their fingernails in the NL wild card race, trailing Colorado by 2.5 games with four remaining. St. Louis is 3.5 back, with a game left against the hated Cubs tonight and then three against the Brewers to finish.
Baseball America liked the 2017 Mississippi Braves. They really liked them. Five M-Braves are in the top 10 in the magazine’s ranking of the Top 20 prospects in the Southern League. A sixth made the list, which was released today. The M-Braves’ record on the field wasn’t so great, but the talent Atlanta appears to be developing is impressive. Ronald Acuna, BA’s minor league player of the year, was rated No. 1 in the SL. Look for him in the outfield at SunTrust Park next season. Young pitchers Mike Soroka (ranked No. 4), Luiz Gohara (5), Kolby Allard (10) and Max Fried (19) could be key pieces in the Atlanta rotation in the not-so-distant future. Gohara and Fried already have big league wins on their resumes. Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, was ranked No. 6 by BA’s editors, who raved about his raw power. He hit eight homers in 178 at-bats as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He’ll challenge for Atlanta’s third-base job soon enough. … Two Biloxi Shuckers made the Top 20: right-handers Corbin Burnes (No. 8) and Luis Ortiz (11). Burnes was Milwaukee’s pick as its minor league pitcher of the year after going 3-3 with a 2.10 ERA for Biloxi and 5-0, 1.05 in A-ball.
While the frontrunners for American League MVP appear to be Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, Brian Dozier deserves at least some honorable mention. The ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton is the engine driving the Minnesota Twins toward an improbable playoff berth. He hit the big home run on Tuesday that helped beat Cleveland and reduced the Twins’ magic number for the second wild card spot to 1. A team that lost 103 games in 2016 is now 83-74 with 38 come-from-behind victories. The Twins, who deployed 10 pitchers in Tuesday’s game, had squandered two leads and were down 6-4 in the eighth when Dozier connected for an opposite-field, three-run bomb. They won 8-6. “That’s what it’s all about … people picking each other up,” Dozier said in a postgame TV interview. Dozier leads the team in games played, hits, runs, RBIs, home runs and walks. He’s also an excellent second baseman. He started rather slowly this season but has hit .291 with 20 homers since the All-Star break. He has 16 homers and 38 RBIs in August and September. For the year, he’s at .264 with 33 homers, 90 RBIs and 102 runs. And to think, there were rumors in the off-season that the club was seeking to trade him. As the analysts like to say, sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make.
Former Ole Miss ace Drew Pomeranz is due for one more start for Boston before the playoffs begin. Based on his performance on Monday, the big left-hander appears to need a little maintenance work. Pomeranz was knocked out in the third inning by Toronto, yielding five runs on seven hits and a walk with no strikeouts. His velocity reportedly was down and his command was lacking. Pomeranz shrugged it off, telling reporters he felt fine. “I really didn’t have a chance to get settled in …,” he told The Associated Press. The Red Sox, who have not yet clinched the American League East, lost the game 6-4. It was just the second loss Pomeranz has absorbed in his last 19 starts. Overall, in 31 starts, he is 16-6 with a 3.38 ERA. The Red Sox need “Big Smooth” to be just that for the postseason.