Houston Astros fans surely will cringe when reminded of what went down on this date in 1971. During the winter meetings, the Astros traded – drumroll, please — Joe Morgan, Jack Billingham, Cesar Geronimo, Ed Armbrister and Denis Menke to Cincinnati for Tommy Helms, Lee May and Jimmy Stewart. Might have been the worst trade ever. And Mississippian Harry Walker, the Houston manager at the time, had a role in it. Morgan, Billingham and Geronimo became key players on the great Reds teams that won back-to-back World Series in 1975 and ’76. Morgan was the National League’s MVP both of those years and is now in the Hall of Fame. The Astros improved slightly from 1971 to ’72, thanks in part to May’s 29 homers, but Walker was fired before the season ended. The Astros wouldn’t sniff the postseason until 1980. Why did the Astros dump Morgan, only 29 at the time of the infamous deal? According to reports, Walker, the Pascagoula native and onetime big league star, didn’t like Morgan, calling him a troublemaker. And Morgan didn’t like Walker, years later accusing him of racism. A stern disciplinarian with an outspoken manner, Walker is said to have clashed with a lot of his players. Hired by the Astros in mid-1968, he was fired in August of ’72 even though the team had a winning record at the time. Leo Durocher finished out the campaign. It was Walker’s ninth and final season as an MLB skipper.
Mitch Moreland was back in the starting lineup for Boston on Thursday and now he’s back in the World Series – for a third time – after the Red Sox dispatched Houston 4-1 in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Mississippi State alumnus, who had been limited by a hamstring injury since Game 2 of the ALDS, went 2-for-4 and was on base when Rafael Devers smacked his huge three-run homer off Justin Verlander in the sixth inning. Moreland is 4-for-9 this postseason and carries a .252 career postseason average – with three homers, 15 RBIs and 14 runs – over 44 games. He has appeared in the postseason in seven of his nine pro seasons, going back to his rookie year of 2010 with Texas, which lost in the World Series to San Francisco. Moreland went 6-for-13 in that Series, then 1-for-10 the next year as the Rangers fell to St. Louis. Boston has had Mississippi natives on several of its World Series teams – Boo Ferriss in 1946, George Scott and Dalton Jones in 1967, Oil Can Boyd in 1986 – but never on one of its championship teams. Amory native Moreland will be out to change that.
Quite a few atta boys to pass out to the Mississippi connections after Tuesday’s league championship games. Who better to start with than:
Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product from Fulton, making his first postseason start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, went 1-for-4 with a walk and an HBP and drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a two-out single in the first inning in the National League Championship Series. “For him to spark us, and get a point early, I thought that was huge,” LA manager Dave Roberts told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. After the 2-1, 13-inning, series-squaring win over Milwaukee, it’ll be interesting to see if Dozier gets another start in Game 5 today at Dodger Stadium.
Alex Wood. The ex-Mississippi Braves star threw a clean 11th inning with one strikeout for the Dodgers.
Orlando Arcia. The Biloxi Shuckers alum went 1-for-5 and scored Milwaukee’s lone run. After an uneven regular season, Arcia is batting .280 with three homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the postseason.
Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader. The former Shuckers chuckers worked a combined six scoreless innings in relief duty and punched out 11 for the Brewers.
Mitch Moreland. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory picked up his second RBI for Boston in the American League Championship Series when he was hit by a Roberto Osuna pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. That run extended the visiting Red Sox’s lead to 4-2, and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed with his game-breaking grand slam as Boston rolled to an 8-2 win and a 2-1 series lead over Houston.
Tony Sipp. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Moss Point closed out the sixth inning for the Astros after Joe Smith yielded Steve Pearce’s go-ahead homer. Sipp, making just his second postseason appearance, walked the first batter he faced but got a strikeout and a ground out to end the inning.
Charlie Morton. The M-Braves product will get the ball for his first postseason start of 2018 for Houston in tonight’s Game 4, a virtual must-win for the Astros. Morton, 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA this season, was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of both the World Series and the ALCS in 2017.
There are four Mississippi natives still playing in this MLB season, one with each of the four teams still standing in the playoffs. Amory’s Mitch Moreland plays first base for Boston, which faces Houston and Moss Point product Tony Sipp, a relief specialist, in the American League Championship Series. Fulton’s Brian Dozier is a second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are taking on Milwaukee and Wheeler product Brandon Woodruff, a pitcher, in the National League Championship Series. Sipp, 35, is the senior member of the group and has followed the most serpentine route to this point. He signed with Cleveland as a 45th-round pick out of Clemson in 2004. He had been drafted twice previously (in higher rounds) – at Moss Point High in 2001 and a Florida juco in 2002. He was a two-way star at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC in 2003 but went undrafted. It took the lithe left-hander five years in the minors to reach the big leagues but once he did, he stuck. This is his fifth year with the Astros and was one of his best, as a 1.86 ERA will attest. He and Moreland have a little history. Moreland is 3-for-11 with two doubles vs. Sipp, who has fanned the lefty hitter six times. Moreland was a 17th-rounder out of Mississippi State in 2007 by Texas, made the big leagues three years later and has made a habit of showing up in the postseason. Moreland is in his second year with Boston, having re-signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in the off-season. He made his first All-Star Game in 2018 and finished with a .245 average and 15 homers. He and Dozier have a little history. They played American Legion ball together back in Tupelo. Dozier went to Southern Miss and was an eighth-round selection in 2009 by Minnesota. He reached the big leagues in 2012, took a brief detour back to the minors, then returned to stay in 2013. An All-Star with the Twins in 2015, the pending free agent was traded to the Dodgers in July. He slumped at season’s end, finishing with a .215 average and 21 homers. He and Woodruff have a little history – but only a little. Dozier is 1-for-2 with a homer off the right-hander, who is in just his second MLB campaign. Woodruff was drafted in the fifth round out of Wheeler High in 2011 but went to Mississippi State instead. After an unspectacular career with the Bulldogs, Milwaukee picked him in the 11th round in 2014. He blossomed quickly, becoming the Brewers’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2016 and making his big league debut the next summer. He put up a 3.61 ERA this season, working primarily in relief down the stretch.
Boston would no doubt like to have Mitch Moreland in the lineup tonight for the American League Division Series Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, but it could be a game-time decision. The former Mississippi State star, who carries a .350 average against expected New York starter Luis Severino, has been getting “aggressive treatment” for a hamstring issue that surfaced during Saturday’s game. Moreland went 1-for-3 in the Red Sox’s loss, which evened the best-of-5 series at 1-all. Moreland, an outstanding first baseman, is 6-for-16 in the postseason for Boston the last two years and is a .239 hitter with three homers in 39 career postseason games. He batted .245 with 15 homers this year. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn worked two scoreless innings for the Yankees in their Game 1 loss in his 25th career postseason appearance. He has a 4.33 ERA in those games, the first 24 of which were with St. Louis. Former State standout Jonathan Holder, who had a 3.14 ERA for the Yankees this year, is yet to pitch in the ALDS and has no career postseason appearances. … Tony Sipp, the Pascagoula native and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product, did not work in either of Houston’s two wins in the ALDS vs. Cleveland. The veteran lefty has six career postseason appearances, all with the Astros in 2015. Indians batters are 1-for-9 against Sipp this year. Game 3 is today. … Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, got a hit Sunday night in his first at-bat this postseason for Los Angeles but also struck out to end Game 3 of the National League Division Series, a crazy 6-5 win by Atlanta. The win, the loss and the save went to former Mississippi Braves: Touki Toussaint got the W, Arodys Vizcaino the save and Alex Wood – who yielded Freddie Freeman’s clutch home run – took the L. Game 4 is today. … Former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes got the win in relief Sunday for Milwaukee as it wrapped up its NLDS against Colorado. Ex-Shuckers star Orlando Arcia homered in the 6-0 victory. Former State standout Brandon Woodruff, also a former Shuckers hurler, started the Brewers’ NLDS roll with three hitless innings as the “opener” in Game 1. “(T)hat kind of set the tempo for everybody,” said Game 3 starter Wade Miley, a veteran whose 2018 season began on a minor league deal in Biloxi. “We kind of went from there.” Colorado scored just two runs in the series.
As the Houston Astros marched toward their first World Series title last year, all Tony Sipp could do was watch. The veteran relief pitcher, who struggled through much of the 2017 season, wasn’t on the team’s roster for any of their three postseason series. Well, that was then. After an amazing resurgence in 2018, the former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is on the roster for the American League Division Series against Cleveland. Game 1 is today at Minute Maid Park. A couple of things happened for the 35-year-old left-hander this year. First, he had to battle just to make the team in spring training and essentially keep his career alive. “It all just came together to create that hunger again. It’s do or die; my back is against the wall,” Sipp told the Houston Chronicle last month. Then, he regained confidence in his best pitch, a splitter that had abandoned him in 2016 and ’17. In 54 appearances (38 2/3 innings) this season, Sipp put up a 1.86 ERA. He yielded just one home run after coughing up eight in 2017 and 12 in 2016. He is the lone lefty in Houston’s bullpen; he is best against lefties (0.90 ERA this year) but can also get right-handed hitters (2.89). P.S. Houston’s roster also includes former Mississippi Braves Brian McCann, Evan Gattis and Charlie Morton, a hero of last year’s title run. Hitting coach Dave Hudgens is a former Jackson Generals hitting coach, a last link to the Double-A Astros affiliate that played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. … In that other ALDS, which starts tonight at Fenway Park, Boston’s roster includes former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland (but not Ole Miss alumnus Drew Pomeranz). The New York Yankees have an alum from both State (Jonathan Holder) and Ole Miss (Lance Lynn) in their bullpen, and the Bombers’ hitting coach is former East Central CC standout Marcus Thames.
Bullpens for contending teams come under extreme scrutiny in September. Crucial situations abound. To wit: At SunTrust Park in Atlanta on Monday night, Dakota Hudson, pitching for St. Louis, faced a few and survived, if a little bloodied. The former Mississippi State star entered the game in the sixth inning with two runners on, one out and the Cardinals up four. Hudson retired the two batters he faced. Both the inherited runners scored, but the runs were unearned because of throwing errors. Hudson got the first two Braves batters in the seventh but then yielded three straight hits and a run that pulled Atlanta within 6-5. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt struck with the rookie right-hander, and he struck out Johan Camargo to end the inning. Hudson got a hold, his 10th (to go with four wins) in 21 appearances, as the Cardinals rolled on to an 11-6 win, keeping pace in the National League Central and a grip on the second wild card. … Flash to Minute Maid Park in Houston: Pascagoula native Tony Sipp, pitching for the Astros, entered in the seventh with his club up 1-0 on Seattle. Sipp, very effective this year as a situational reliever, got a strikeout and a ground out sandwiched around a walk but was lifted after allowing a single. Ryan Pressley bailed Sipp out — the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum actually was credited with a hold — but the Astros went on to lose 4-1 when Hector Rondon gave up an eighth-inning grand slam to Daniel Vogelbach. Houston’s lead in the American League West dipped to 4 games over Oakland. … At Miller Park in Milwaukee, MSU product Brandon Woodruff got the ball in the seventh inning with a nice cushion, the Brewers leading Cincinnati 8-0. Still, the former Wheeler High star made the most of the opportunity, delivering three scoreless innings for his first MLB save. He now has a 3.99 ERA (and three W’s) in 16 games for the Brewers, who lead the NL wild card standings and lurk just 2.5 games behind the Chicago Cubs in the Central Division.
Chuckie Robinson added to his bling collection on Tuesday, scoring the winning run in the Carolina League championship game for Buies Creek. If you’re keeping score, that’s three titles in three years for the former Southern Miss standout. USM won a Conference USA crown with Robinson behind the plate in 2016, and he picked up a championship ring last year with Quad Cities, Houston’s low Class A club in the Midwest League. Robinson was the MVP in the MWL Championship Series, capping a year in which he batted .274 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs. At high-A Buies Creek this season, he didn’t have the big numbers — .238, seven homers, 30 RBIs – but he came up large in the one-game title showdown against Potomac. With the score tied 1-1, Robinson led off the bottom of the 11th inning with a single and later scored from second base on another single. The former 21st-round pick, an outstanding defensive catcher, slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart at midseason this year but is no doubt still on the club’s radar.
Of the 93 hits Mitch Moreland has this season, No. 93 on Sunday night might have been one of the least well-struck. Still, it set off a mad celebration at Fenway Park. Mississippi State product Moreland sliced an opposite-field flare into left field, scoring a runner from second base with two outs in the ninth and giving Boston a 6-5 win over Houston in a battle of American League juggernauts. “Yeah, I mean, I’ll take it every time,” Moreland, who has been battling a slump, said in an mlb.com story. Moreland, an All-Star this summer, is hitting just .200 over his last 30 games. For the year, the lefty-hitting first baseman is at .251 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs. Nicknamed “2 Bags” last year for his knack of smacking doubles, Moreland has 40 extra-base hits and is slugging .450. The win was Boston’s 98th of the year, its seventh walk-off, and salvaged the third game of the series against the Astros. … Meanwhile, in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., another ex-Bulldogs star got mobbed on Sunday after registering a three-pitch save that secured the New York-Penn League championship. Jacob Billingsley, a 32nd-round pick out of State in June, closed out Tri-City’s 4-2 victory over Hudson Valley in the short-season Class A circuit. “That was fun. Man, that was fun,” Billingsley told milb.com. “It means everything to a lot of these guys.” Billingsley pitched in nine games for the Astros affiliate and posted a 5.63 ERA (inflated by one bad outing) with one save. The 24-year-old right-hander entered Sunday’s contest – Game 2 of the best-of-3 – in the 12th inning with the bases loaded and two outs. He induced a fly ball with his third pitch to set off the ValleyCats’ celebration.
It’s no shocker, really, that Florida high schools produce more pro baseball players per capita than any other state. Lot of athletes, lot of warm weather. From 2011-17, 1,311 Sunshine State products appeared on MLB-affiliated rosters, which comes to 4.16 players per 100,000 people, according to a study by Baseball America published in its Sept. 7-21 issue. Fourth on this list is — drumroll, please — Mississippi, with 3.31 players per 100,000 people. That’s more per capita than California, Texas, Arizona or Louisiana, to name a few. That’s kind of amazing. Magnolia State high schools produced 149 pros in the seven-year span that BA surveyed. Hattiesburg — presumably, the baseball-rich Pine Belt area — produced 11, earning the designation of “hotbed” in Mississippi. Another Hattiesburg kid was drafted in the second round this year — Joe Gray, now in the Milwaukee system. … Among those 149 prep products is Hunter Renfroe, the pride of Copiah Academy. Renfroe, now with the San Diego Padres, is about as hot as anybody from anywhere of late. He hit two home runs on Saturday, giving him 12 in his last 30 games and 19 for the year. He is batting .259 — .302 over his last 30 games — and has 56 RBIs, including a major league-best 27 in August. Also deserving of a nod is Tony Sipp, the ex-Moss Point High star who threw another clean inning in middle relief for Houston in a win on Saturday. The situational lefty has a 2.20 ERA in 44 games and is at 1.61 over his last 30 appearances for the first-place Astros. Renfroe and Sipp are among the 15 Mississippi prep products who have appeared in the big leagues in 2018. Don’t know the per capita rating on that but it’s gotta be up there.