Winning a World Series ring as a member of the Houston Astros should propel Brian McCann a little farther down what the MLB Network guys call “the Hall of Fame Highway.” McCann was the first Mississippi Braves player to earn a promotion to the big leagues back in 2005 and will almost certainly be the first M-Braves alumnus to make the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The 33-year-old catcher has a lifetime average of .264 (1,481 hits) with 263 home runs, 950 RBIs and a 30.2 WAR. He has hit 20 or more homers in 10 seasons and smacked 18 for the Astros in 2017. He is a seven-time All-Star and six-time Silver Slugger winner. He is also pretty good behind the plate. … Big props to Charlie Morton, M-Braves Class of 2007, for his World Series work: 10 1/3 innings, two runs allowed in two appearances. Notching the Game 7 win with four innings in relief puts Morton in select company. … The Jackson Generals were the Astros’ Double-A affiliate from 1991-99, and one connection to that era was in a Houston uniform on Wednesday night: hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who served in the same capacity for the Gens in 1993, when the team won a Texas League championship. … Houston was in the postseason six times between 1997 and 2005, and a large number of ex-Generals were on those teams, including the likes of Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman, Billy Wagner and Richard Hidalgo. Mississippi natives Roy Oswalt, Jay Powell, Dave Clark and Charlie Hayes also suited up the Astros during that time, which preceeded some lean years, including a 10-year playoff drought. … It has to be noted also that the first manager of the Houston franchise, born the Colt .45s in 1962, was Harry Craft, a native of Ellisville who managed the team for three seasons. He died in 1995. … Mississippi native Tony Sipp will get a ring, his first in a nine-year MLB career. Though he wasn’t active for the postseason, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product pitched in 46 games for the Astros this season, his fourth with the club.
Before Game 4 gets too far behind us, let’s make sure the record shows that Charlie Morton vs. Alex Wood – a matchup of onetime Mississippi Braves pitchers – was one of the great pitchers’ duels in World Series history. Neither went past the seventh inning — that’s the nature of baseball today – so it doesn’t quite measure up to, say, Morris-Smoltz from 1991 or McNally-Drysdale ’66 or Sain-Feller ’48. But for five innings Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, Houston’s Morton and Los Angeles’ Wood were spectacular, evoking references to the game’s greats. Left-hander Wood, who starred for the M-Braves in 2013, his second pro season after being drafted out of Georgia, didn’t allow a hit through five, becoming the first Dodgers starter ever to do that in a World Series game. Righty Morton, who reached Double-A Mississippi in 2007 (see previous post), his sixth pro year, yielded one hit – a leadoff single – through five and had seven strikeouts to that point. It was still scoreless in the sixth when Wood finally was touched for a hit – George Springer’s two-out home run that sent Wood to the bench. Morton left in the top of the seventh after yielding a one-out double to Cody Bellinger, who later scored the Dodgers’ first run. The Dodgers’ five-run ninth-inning outburst, which carried them to a 6-2 victory and 2-2 Series tie, somewhat obscured the brilliance of Morton and Wood. It was the first time in World Series history that both starting pitchers allowed four or fewer baserunners, according to mlb.com. There’s a chance we won’t see either of them again in the series, so let’s not forget the shining moment they shared. P.S. Props to Craig Kimbrel, another ex-M-Braves pitcher, for winning the Mariano Rivera American League Reliver of the Year award. Kimbrel is Boston’s closer.
Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss pitcher; Ron Gardenhire, the Jackson Mets shortstop from way back when; and ex-Jackson State slugger Dave Clark are among the candidates for the four managerial openings in the big leagues, according to various reports. Callaway, Cleveland’s pitching coach, is rumored to be the favorite in Philadelphia but is also said to be a good fit for the New York Mets. Gardenhire, currently bench coach for Arizona, is reportedly under consideration for the job in Boston and also Detroit, where Clark has been the third-base coach for four years. Gardenhire managed in Minnesota for 13 seasons, winning over 1,000 games and making six postseason trips. Clark was an interim skipper in Houston in 2009. … Charlie Morton, one of three former Mississippi Braves on Houston’s current roster, will start Game 3 of the American League Championship Series tonight at New York. CC Sabathia starts for the Yankees. Morton, a 14-game winner this season, yielded two runs in 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 of the ALDS at Boston, a game the Astros won 5-4 to claim the series. M-Braves alums Brian McCann and Evan Gattis also play for the Astros, whose hitting coach is onetime Jackson Generals coach Dave Hudgens. … Former M-Braves star Jason Heyward went 0-for-3 in the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sunday night’s NLCS Game 2. Heyward is just one of numerous Cubs slumping this postseason; he is 2-for-15 this year and is batting .155 in 35 career postseason games. … Ole Miss alum David Goforth, who pitched briefly for Milwaukee in 2017, is now working in the Mexican Pacific League, and Southern Miss product Scott Copeland, a Miami minor leaguer, is pitching in the Dominican Winter League. Those leagues started last week.
Charlie Morton, Houston’s scheduled starter today in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Boston, spent a largely forgettable season with the Mississippi Braves in 2007. The right-hander, then 23 years old and in his sixth pro season, appeared in 41 games, all but six in relief. He went 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA. He was 0-for-4 in save opportunities. But he got the start for the M-Braves in Game 2 of the Southern League South playoffs against Montgomery at Trustmark Park and delivered what might have been a career-altering performance: seven innings, three hits, one run, eight strikeouts. He made the big leagues the next year after a strong showing in Triple-A. Morton’s MLB career has been unspectacular – 60-78, 4.41 ERA – and stunted by injuries. But he found a footing with the Astros this season, going 14-7, 3.62. Today, at what could be a soggy Fenway Park, he gets his second MLB postseason start. Former M-Braves star Brian McCann (Class of 2005) likely will be the Astros’ catcher today. Waiting in the Boston bullpen, no doubt champing at the bit for a save opportunity, will be Craig Kimbrel, arguably the most dominant closer to pass through Pearl these last 13 years. Kimbrel was 6-for-6 in save opps with two wins and a 0.77 ERA in 12 games for the M-Braves in 2009. … Should there be a Game 4 in the Los Angeles-Arizona National League Division Series, former M-Braves standout Alex Wood is slated to start for the Dodgers. The lefty, a spectacular 16-3, 2.72 this season, went 4-2, 1.26 in 10 starts for the M-Braves in 2013 and made the big leagues that same year.
Way back in 2010, the scouting department of the Cleveland Indians envisioned Drew Pomeranz pitching in big games. The Indians drafted the big lefty out of Ole Miss with the fifth overall pick and signed him for $2.6 million. He was the second pitcher taken – behind Jameson Taillon – and went ahead of Matt Harvey and Chris Sale. Though he no longer pitches for Cleveland – that was four teams ago – Pomeranz’s big game is here. He takes the ball for Boston today at Houston’s Minute Maid Park with his team down 1-0 in the best-of-5 American League Division Series. Pomeranz (17-6, 3.32 ERA) got the win against the Astros last week in the victory that secured the AL East title. That was a big game, too. But this is certainly bigger. It’ll be Pomeranz’s first postseason start. And he’s facing an Astros team that raked Red Sox pitching – including Sale — for 12 hits and eight runs in Thursday’s opener. And he’ll be opposed by Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 Cy Young Award winner who is 14-5, 2.90 ERA. Pomeranz may be able to draw on his success from last week, when he checked the Astros on three hits and a lone run in six-plus innings. “Kind of goes both ways,” Pomeranz told masslive.com. “They got to see me; I got to see them.” And that was at Fenway Park, with the backing of Red Sox Nation. Today will be different. And so much bigger. … It’ll be interesting to see if former Mississippi State standout Mitch Moreland, a lefty hitter, is in the Boston lineup against left-hander Keuchel. The Red Sox might want Moreland at first base for his defense.
Keep an eye on Mitch Moreland in today’s American League Division Series opener between Boston and Houston. The former Mississippi State star has very good numbers against Justin Verlander, the future Hall of Famer who’ll start for the Astros at Minute Maid Park. Moreland, the Red Sox’s lefty-hitting first baseman, is 10-for-29 (.345) against Verlander with six doubles and six RBIs. Moreland hit .246 with 22 homers and 79 RBIs in his first year with Boston; he has a .216 career postseason average in 33 games, all with Texas. Verlander, who has 188 career wins, went 15-8 with a 3.36 ERA this season, 5-0, 1.06 with Houston. … Tony Sipp, the Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum, was not expected to make the Astros’ ALDS roster. Left-hander Sipp had a 5.79 ERA this year, almost two runs higher than his career mark. … There will be two Mississippians in uniform for today’s New York-Cleveland ALDS opener. Ole Miss product Mickey Callaway is in his fifth year as the Indians’ pitching coach, and Louisville native and ex-East Central CC star Marcus Thames is in his second as the Yankees’ assistant hitting coach. … Former Mississippi State pitcher Jonathan Holder, who had a 3.89 ERA in 37 MLB games in 2017, was not on the Yankees’ active roster for the wild card game and isn’t likely to be on the ALDS roster. … Belated props to Hawtin Buchanan, the former UM standout from Biloxi who won a championship with the York Revolution in the independent Atlantic League last Friday. Buchanan posted a 3.40 ERA in 38 games for York.
Three members of the Mississippi Braves’ original opening day roster from 2005 are on MLB postseason teams this year. Catcher Brian McCann, the first M-Brave to get the big league ticket, is with Houston – along with fellow ex-M-Braves Charlie Morton, Evan Gattis and James Hoyt – heading into the American League Division Series battle with Boston. Right-hander Blaine Boyer, who was the second M-Brave to be promoted to Atlanta, works out of the Red Sox’s bullpen, as does Craig Kimbrel. Outfielder Gregor Blanco, who waited a little longer – until 2008 – than McCann and Boyer to make The Show, is a bench player for Arizona, which hosts Colorado in tonight’s National League wild card game. Blanco has had a journeyman career but has played in 37 postseason games and won two World Series rings – with San Francisco in 2012 and ’14. Released by the Giants after last season, Blanco signed with the Diamondbacks. In 90 games, the speedy left-handed hitter batted .246 with three homers, 13 RBIs, 43 runs and 15 steals. He is also a good defensive outfielder. His advice for his D-backs teammates, many of whom are making their first postseason appearance? “Have fun and play the game,” Blanco told sfgate.com. “Whatever happens, happens.” P.S. Several other former Jackson area Double-A connections are with teams who made the postseason, including ex-Jackson Mets shortstop Ron Gardenhire, now Arizona’s bench coach, and ex-JaxMets infielder Dave Magadan, the D’backs’ hitting coach. Former JaxMets pitcher Neil Allen is the pitching coach for Minnesota, which was eliminated Tuesday by the New York Yankees. M-Braves alum Chasen Shreve, a Las Vegas native who threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Yankee Stadium, is a reliever for the Yanks. Dave Hudgens, a onetime Jackson Generals hitting coach, now fills that role for Houston. M-Braves products Alex Wood and Luis Avilan pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella play for the Chicago Cubs. … Tuesday marked the end of an era in Tampa Bay with the unexpected departure – by mutual agreement? — of former Generals pitching coach Jim Hickey from the Rays’ staff. Hickey has been the Rays’ pitching coach for 11 years. He’ll have no trouble finding another job. Also on Tuesday, Seattle announced that ex-JaxMets shortstop Tim Bogar will not return as bench coach.