05 Oct

squirrel!

The final career postseason appearance for Roy Oswalt came on this date in 2011 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Ah, but the game is better remembered as the one in which a squirrel — later anointed as the “rally squirrel” — darted across home plate while the Holmes Community College product – and 2019 Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame inductee — was throwing a pitch. It was Game 4 of the National League Division Series between Oswalt’s Philadelphia Phillies and the Cardinals. Oswalt didn’t pitch particularly well, allowing five runs in six innings. He took the loss in a 5-3 defeat that evened the 5-game series at 2-all. The squirrel incident occurred in the fifth inning, with the Cardinals already ahead 3-2. No rally actually took place, but Oswalt and Phils manager Charlie Manuel were upset that the pitch was called a ball and not waved off. As the story goes, back in Philadelphia for Game 5, a Phillies fan threw a stuffed squirrel into the St. Louis bullpen, and after the Cardinals took the series, they adopted the “rally squirrel” as a mascot of sorts. They went on to win the World Series. Only in baseball.

30 Sep

buckle up

Spencer Turnbull, the former Madison Central star who has pitched a total of 11 innings in the big leagues, gets the start today for Detroit against Milwaukee in one of the four huge games on the schedule for the last day of the regular season. The Brewers are tied atop the National League Central with the Chicago Cubs, who host St. Louis. The Los Angeles Dodgers, at San Francisco today, are tied atop the NL West with Colorado, which hosts Washington. Division titles, much preferable than wild cards, are on the line. Monday playoff games are possible. Seamheads live for stuff like this. Mississippi-connected players could have significant impact, particularly at Miller Park today. Turnbull, a 26-year-old right-hander, was called up mid-month and is 0-1 with a 5.73 ERA in three games. His last start, however, was outstanding: six innings, one run allowed vs. Minnesota. He’ll be opposed by veteran lefty Gio Gonzalez, who has 126 wins in 312 career games and has pitched in four different postseasons. Detroit’s lineup is likely to include former Richton High star JaCoby Jones, who went 1-for-4 with two runs in the Tigers’ loss on Saturday. Pillow Academy alum Louis Coleman has had a good year out of the Detroit bullpen. Milwaukee’s pitching staff includes several former Biloxi Shuckers, among them former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff. He pitched two clean innings in the Brewers’ win on Friday. … Mississippi Braves alum Alex Wood picked up the win out of the pen for the Dodgers against the hated Giants on Saturday and worked in their victory on Friday. The Dodgers also have ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who hasn’t played much of late but seems due for a big moment. … St. Louis, eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday, would like nothing more than to spoil any possible Cubs celebration at Wrigley Field today. Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson and Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers could see duty out of the Cardinals’ pen against a Cubs lineup that’ll most likely include ex-M-Braves star Jason Heyward.

25 Sep

something wild

Mississippian Lance Barksdale had a great view of a wild and wooly affair in St. Louis on Monday night. The Brookhaven native was the home plate umpire in Milwaukee’s 6-4 win over the Cardinals, a game that had major postseason implications. This one turned when St. Louis right fielder Jose Martinez, who spent a year with the Mississippi Braves, misplayed an Eric Thames fly ball into a triple in the eighth inning. Thames scored the go-ahead run on an errant pickoff throw at first base. The game “featured” 16 pitchers, including an “opener” who threw three pitches. There were three home runs, one by Martinez, whose bat – certainly not his glove — keeps him in the lineup. Brewers bullpen ace and strikeout machine Josh Hader, the former Biloxi Shuckers star, yielded two homers, two walks and three runs, though he did manage two K’s. Ex-Shucker Corbin Burnes got two outs in the seventh and claimed the win; he is 7-0. Former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson walked in a run (on his first four pitches) and gave up a sac fly that put St. Louis behind in the sixth inning. Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers gave up a big RBI double in the ninth to Brewers star – and likely league MVP – Christian Yelich. Eighteen batters struck out all told, and — oddly — neither team got a hit with a runner in scoring position. There was a runner thrown out at the plate. There were two hit batsmen. There was even a rain delay. When all was said and done, the Brewers stood 1.5 games behind first-place Chicago in the National League Central. The Cardinals are 3 games back of the Brewers and just a half-game up on Colorado in the wild card standings. P.S. Jonathan Holder, the former State star from Gulfport, made his first career start – in his 103rd appearance — for the New York Yankees, serving as the “opener” against Tampa Bay. He walked a pair but didn’t allow a run in his one inning of work and the Yanks went on to beat the Rays 4-1, handing Oakland a postseason berth in the process.

24 Sep

central casting

All eyes – well, a lot of them — are on the National League Central and the two intra-divisional series that start today in Chicago and St. Louis. And, yes, Mississippi ties are all around. The first-place Cubs host fourth-place Pittsburgh – officially eliminated from postseason contention on Sunday – in a four-game series at Wrigley Field, while second-place Milwaukee – 2.5 games behind the Cubs – and the third-place Cardinals – 4.5 games behind the Cubs – tangle in a three-game set at Busch Stadium. The Brewers and Cardinals top the wild card standings, with Colorado lurking 1.5 games back. The Brewers’ roster includes former Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff and several other former Biloxi Shuckers, notably pitchers Josh Hader, Freddy Peralta, Jacob Barnes and Taylor Williams and shortstop Orlando Arcia. Brewers coach Carlos Subero is a former Shuckers manager. Ex-Ole Miss star Mike Mayers and State alum Dakota Hudson have been key contributors in St. Louis’ bullpen, and ex-Mississippi Braves John Gant and Chasen Shreve are also on the pitching staff. The Milwaukee-St. Louis season series is tied 8-8. The Cubs suit up a pair of M-Braves alums – Jason Heyward and Tommy LaStella – and their pitching coach is former Jackson Generals coach Jim Hickey. The Cubs have the best record in the NL but they’re in no position to breathe easy against a Pirates lineup that usually features Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson, one of the league’s leading hitters, and ex-State standout Adam Frazier. Pittsburgh is managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, and the hitting coach is Waynesboro native Jeff Branson. P.S. Frazier hit his 10th home run on Sunday and joins Hunter Renfroe, Brian Dozier, Tim Anderson, Mitch Moreland, Dickerson and JaCoby Jones as Mississippians with double-digit bombs in the majors this season.

18 Sep

back for more

Anthony Alford is back in the big leagues, looking for his first at-bat since May 13. The former Petal High star was recalled from the minors by Toronto on Monday; he is not in tonight’s lineup against Baltimore. Alford, 24, had a tough year at Triple-A Buffalo, batting .240 with five homers and 17 steals. He was injured in big league camp in the spring and got into just seven games with Blue Jays in May before heading to the minors. In 22 MLB at-bats over the last two years, the erstwhile college quarterback has three hits. Alford’s prospect star has dimmed a bit from what it once was, though he is still rated No. 5 in the Toronto system by MLB Pipeline. The remains of this season could be important to his future. Alford said he is particularly pumped about playing in the big leagues with his brother-in-law, Jonathan Davis, who came up through the minors with him. “We’re both here and now it’s just a matter of going out there and playing and having fun,” Alford told the Toronto Sun. P.S. Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe, a rising prospect in Tampa Bay’s organization, will lead Durham against Memphis in tonight’s Triple-A championship game in Columbus, Ohio. Lowe, named to Baseball America’s Minor League All-Stars second team, batted .260 with four homers for Durham and .330 with 27 bombs over three levels on the year. Suiting up for Memphis, St. Louis’ top affiliate, is ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis, who went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA in 16 games for the Redbirds. The 6 p.m. game will be broadcast by the NBC Sports Network.

18 Sep

september heat

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.

31 Aug

ready and waiting

Though there is no opening at third base in Atlanta at the moment, former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley continues to build his resume, prepping for an opportunity that can’t be far off. Riley, 21, one of the Braves’ highest-rated prospects, is batting .283 with 11 homers and 46 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett. He extended his hitting streak to nine games on Thursday with a 3-for-5, five-RBI effort that included his fourth homer in his last eight games. He has 18 bombs this season, including six he hit at the start of the year in Double-A Mississippi. Riley’s progress this season, his fourth in pro ball, was stalled by a knee injury in early June. It took a while, but he seems fully recovered now. “I think the biggest thing was trusting that my leg was 100 percent … and being able to put all my weight on it pressure-wise, whether it’s a swing or defense,” Riley said in an milb.com story. “Just being able to trust that it’s 100 percent.” Riley isn’t on the Braves’ 40-man roster – and M-Braves alum Johan Camargo is handling third base very well — so a September call-up isn’t a foregone conclusion. But Riley stands ready. “I think he’s more than capable of helping that club win right now,” Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill told the Gwinnett Daily Post. P.S. Former M-Braves pitcher John Gant homered for St. Louis — while also throwing 5 2/3 shutout innings to notch a win – and is now 2-for-36 in his MLB career, both hits homers. His other bomb came earlier this month and was the first since high school for the eight-year pro.

13 Aug

helping hands

Mississippi college products Mike Mayers and Dakota Hudson, middle relievers for St. Louis, have played their roles well for the Cardinals, who – don’t look now – have won five straight, eight of 10 and jumped into the National League playoff race. Mayers, an Ole Miss product in his third big league campaign, notched his sixth hold on Sunday with a spotless seventh inning in an 8-2 win against Kansas City. He has allowed just one run in his last seven appearances and trimmed his ERA to 3.43 over 37 games. Hudson, a rookie out of Mississippi State, was called up on July 27 and has yielded just one run in seven appearances. He has an 0.96 ERA, two wins and three holds and has allowed only three hits in 9 1/3 innings. This comes on the heels of an excellent season at Triple-A Memphis (13-3, 2.50 as a starter). The Cardinals, playing better (16-9) under interim manager Mike Shildt, are 63-55 and just 5.5 games back of the Chicago Cubs in the NL Central. P.S. Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty tossed six shutout innings Sunday – but got a no-decision — in his high Class A debut in Cleveland’s system. Lefty McCarty was 4-9, 4.29 with a league-best 132 strikeouts in the low-A Midwest League. … Touki Toussaint, who started this season with the Mississippi Braves, is slated to make his MLB debut today for Atlanta against Miami. Toussaint was 4-6, 2.93 for the Double-A M-Braves and 2-0, 2.01 at Triple-A Gwinnett.

07 Aug

around the horn

Two games into his New York Yankees career, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn looks like a good fit. The big right-hander played stopper on Monday night, throwing 7 1/3 fairly brilliant innings to beat the Chicago White Sox 7-0 and end the Yanks’ five-game skid. He hasn’t allowed a run in 11 2/3 innings over two appearances since his trade from Minnesota. His ERA for the season is now 4.58. Lynn won 72 games in six years in St. Louis, pitched in 24 postseason games and won a World Series ring in 2011. And yet: “When playing for the Yankees, it’s a little different,” Lynn said in an mlb.com story. … Meanwhile, UM alum Bobby Wahl, pitching for that other New York club, notched his second hold on Monday night in his third appearance for the Mets, who beat Cincinnati 6-4. Wahl, acquired in a trade with Oakland, has three strikeouts among the five outs he has recorded in his three scoreless outings. … Though not all of his numbers are great, former Southern Miss ace Kirk McCarty does lead all low Class A pitchers in strikeouts with 132. The 5-foot-10 left-hander from Hattiesburg is 4-8 with a 4.29 ERA in 115 1/3 innings for Lake County in Cleveland’s system. He has won three of his last four decisions. … Joe Gray, drafted in the second round in June by Milwaukee, isn’t hitting much in the rookie Arizona League – .175 in 17 games – but the Hattiesburg High alum has shown a knack for drawing walks – 14, boosting his on-base percentage to .342. The 18-year-old outfielder has a homer, eight RBIs, 10 runs and six steals. … The NJCAA National Team, featuring several MACJC stars, is 1-1 in the National Baseball Congress World Series after a 6-3 loss to the San Antonio, TX Angels on Monday. Jones County JC’s Tyler Spring took the loss, though he allowed just one earned run in 5 1/3 innings. Northwest’s Brant Blaylock was 0-for-3 with a walk and an RBI and Gulf Coast’s Brandon Parker 0-for-2 with two walks and a run. Blaylock went 3-for-6 with an RBI and Parker 1-for-4 with two walks and an RBI in a 7-6, 12-inning win vs. the San Diego, CA Force in the team’s opener on Saturday. Shermar Page of Pearl River pitched a scoreless inning in that game.

27 Jul

watch for it

There has not been an official announcement, but St. Louis is expected to add former Mississippi State standout Dakota Hudson to its big league roster today. Right-hander Hudson, the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2016 and their No. 4 prospect, was pulled from a start in the second inning at Triple-A Memphis on Wednesday and reportedly was getting hugs from teammates. He is 13-3 with a 2.50 ERA for the Redbirds. He pitched in both the All-Star Futures and Triple-A All-Star games this month, and he was the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2017. Hudson is in line to be the second Mississippian (native or college alum) to debut in The Show in 2018. The other is Braxton Lee, the Ole Miss product from Picayune who made it with Miami in April. … Lee’s season has been a topsy-turvy one. He has played at four levels of the game, but the moves have not come in a desirable sequence. Rated the No. 29 prospect in Miami’s system, Lee is currently with Double-A Jacksonville in the Southern League. After a breakout 2017 season in the minors, the speedy, lefty-hitting outfielder was on Miami’s big league roster for opening day on March 29 and made his debut the next day. As they say, getting to the big leagues is easier than staying there. Lee was optioned out to Triple-A New Orleans on April 1, recalled on April 5, then optioned out again on April 13. On May 1, he landed on the disabled list. A month later, he was assigned to A-ball for a rehab stint. On June 15, he joined the Jacksonville club and on June 18 returned to New Orleans. On July 13, he was sent back to Double-A. If Lee is having trouble finding a rhythm, it’s little wonder. He hit .202 during his time in New Orleans. He went 3-for-17 in his two big league stints. This after hitting .309 in the Southern League in 2017 and shining in the Arizona Fall League. Maybe the return to Jacksonville will help him rediscover what he has lost. But, in 16 games with the Jumbo Shrimp, he is batting .215.