28 Oct

yes, that was big

The ball traveled 437 feet into the right-field seats at Dodger Stadium. It left the bat at 110 mph, according to Statcast. The blast came with two outs and two on in the seventh inning and put the Boston Red Sox on the scoreboard for the first time in Game 4 of the World Series. Mitch Moreland’s pinch-hit home run on Saturday night was big in so many ways for the Red Sox, who erased a four-run deficit and beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 9-6 to move within one win of a championship. Amory native and ex-Mississippi State star Moreland, having a quiet Series to that point, said in a postgame interview on MLB Network that he went to the plate looking for a changeup from Ryan Madson. “I thought I’d sit on that and see what happens,” Moreland said in his genuine aw-shucks style. He got a changeup on the first pitch and crushed it. Suddenly, the Red Sox trailed just 4-3. “It kinda took a big hit to get us going,” Boston’s Brock Holt said in a TV interview. “That home run by Mitch was huge,” said teammate Xander Bogaerts. The homer was the fourth of Moreland’s postseason career, more than any other Mississippi native has hit. In his ninth MLB season, Moreland has played in 48 postseason games, batting .244 with 18 RBIs. This is his third World Series. The first two — in 2010 and ’11 with Texas — ended in disappointment. This one might turn out differently, and if it does, Red Sox Nation can look back on Moreland’s big homer as a big reason why.

25 Oct

gold rush

This could be the year. Billy Hamilton, for all the jaw-dropping plays he has made in center field these last five years, has not won a Gold Glove. The Taylorsville native and Cincinnati center fielder is among the finalists this year, as are Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson and former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland. The nine winners from each of the two leagues will be announced on Nov. 4. The dash-fast Hamilton made 348 putouts this season – suffice it to say that’s a lot – registered 12 assists and committed just two errors. Dickerson, who played left field for Pittsburgh, also had an excellent year with the glove, making just one error with seven assists. Moreland, Boston’s first baseman, won a Gold Glove with Texas in 2016; he made two errors this year while handling 809 chances. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier took gold at second base with Minnesota in 2017 but did not make the list of finalists this year. Greenville natives Frank White and George Scott own the most Gold Gloves among Mississippians with eight apiece. White racked up his at second base with Kansas City back in the 1970s and ’80s. Scott earned his as a first baseman with Boston and Milwaukee in the ’60s and ’70s.

23 Oct

expectations

We should not expect much from the two Mississippi products in the 2018 World Series, according to one espn.com writer, who has offered a guide to each of the players on the Boston and Los Angeles rosters. The 50-player list was “loosely organized by how prominently each player should figure into his team’s hopes and plans.” Former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland hit .245 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs for the Red Sox this season and is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. He was hindered by a hamstring injury early in the postseason. Brian Dozier, a Southern Miss alumnus, has played sparingly for the Dodgers in recent weeks, perhaps also bothered by the lingering effects of a knee injury. On the espn.com chart, Moreland was ranked No. 21, just ahead of Yasiel Puig and Nathan Eovaldi. And yet, the 33-year-old Moreland, an All-Star this summer, was described as “an old, slow first baseman with a low batting average and only moderate power, who costs enough money for it to count and offers little upside beyond what’s there.” Uh, OK. The writer’s assessment of Dozier was far less complimentary. He was ranked No. 50, making him, by extrapolation, the least impactful player in the World Series. An LA newspaper’s description of Dozier in July as a streaky hitter, the espn.com scribe writes, “looks darkly prescient, as Dozier had the worst month of his career in September (he hit .087/.189/.229) and has been demoted to the bench for all but one postseason game so far.” All that is true — but it’s also true that Dozier, 31, is a career .324 on-base guy with 172 homers and owns a Gold Glove at second base. Maybe Moreland and Dozier don’t exactly blow your hair back, but it seems foolish to underestimate either of these battle-tested veterans on baseball’s grandest stage. P.S. Moreland isn’t likely to start Game 1 tonight against Clayton Kershaw, one of many lefties the Dodgers can run out. Dozier very well could start against Chris Sale; he’s 12-for-47 career with three homers vs. the Red Sox left-hander.

19 Oct

he’s back

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.

21 Sep

party on …

Mitch Moreland has done quite a bit of celebrating in his big league career. The Amory native and ex-Mississippi State star was on the field at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night when Boston clinched the American League East with a rollicking 11-6 victory over New York. In his nine MLB seasons, Moreland has had a hand in six division championships, four with Texas and the last two with the Red Sox. He was also on the Rangers’ wild card team in 2012. Moreland is batting .243 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs this season. After making his first All-Star Game in July, he has struggled much of the second half and lost playing time at first base to Steve Pearce. But Moreland’s superior defense will get him into games, and his postseason experience (37 games) is also valuable. He hit .385 in Boston’s division series loss to Houston in 2017. Moreland has played in two World Series – with Texas in 2010 and ’11 – but is yet to win a ring. That could change this fall. P.S. Former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout Cody Reed threw six shutout innings for Cincinnati to get his first win as a big league starter (see previous post). He allowed five hits, no walks and punched out six Miami batters. Lefty Reed, who threw five scoreless innings in his previous start, is 1-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 16 games (six starts) this season.

10 Sep

celebrate, celebrate

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.

08 Aug

heady times

Mitch Moreland is caught up in the middle of something special. Moreland, the Mississippi State alum from Amory, hit a key home run on Tuesday night to help Boston repel Toronto 10-7 in a wild 10-inning affair. It was the Red Sox’s 80th win of the year; that’s seven more than the next best total. They swept the rival New York Yankees four straight over the weekend. They’re on a 24-5 roll. There’s even buzz about them threatening Seattle’s 2001 record of 116 wins. “Yeah, we’re pretty good,” Moreland said in his typically understated manner in an mlb.com story. His decision to re-sign with the Red Sox as a free agent in the off-season is shaping up as a brilliant career move. He has delivered 14 homers and 55 RBIs as part of a lineup stacked with All-Stars, himself included. And consider that the Red Sox have achieved these heights with little contribution from ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz, a 17-game winner in 2017 who has one victory this season. He started Tuesday’s game and lasted just 4 2/3 innings, yielding two runs. His ERA is 6.31. “We need this guy,” manager Alex Cora told mlb.com. “This guy is very important to us for what we want to try to accomplish, so we’ll keep working at it.” P.S. Former State standout Hunter Renfroe went deep for San Diego, his 10th of the year and 40th of his career. He is hitting .297 with three homers in his last seven games.

09 Jul

just reward

The preseason magazines didn’t give Mitch Moreland much attention. Sports Illustrated’s Boston Red Sox preview didn’t mention him at all. The Amory native and former Mississippi State standout had re-signed as a free agent with the Red Sox in mid-December with no guarantee of a spot in the lineup. But Moreland did what he does: Keep grinding. And on Sunday, Moreland got a spot on the American League All-Star roster, voted in by his fellow players. It’ll be the first trip to the Midsummer Classic for the humble nine-year veteran. Funny how things work out. Boston had five players make the All-Star squad. When Boston manager Alex Cora informed the team of this news, his announcement of Moreland’s selection reportedly got the loudest response. “Out of all of them — I’m very proud of all of them — but to tell the team that he’s an All-Star, that was amazing,” Cora said in an mlb.com article. Moreland wasn’t in the lineup for Games 1 or 2 of the season, coming in late as a defensive replacement at first base for Hanley Ramirez. When his at-bats did come, Moreland started slowly. But by mid-May, he had taken the everyday job. Ramirez was released at the end of that month. As a 17th-round draft pick, Moreland said he always felt like he had to battle for everything he got in the game. “I might not be the fastest or have the quickest hands or whatever, but I’m going to work as hard as anybody out there,” he told masslive.com on Sunday. That lunch-pail mentality has served him well. He reached the big leagues with Texas in 2010 – his fourth pro season — and has been in The Show ever since. He’s had some good years. He has 143 career homers. He has a Gold Glove. And, hey now, he’s an All-Star. P.S. Props also to former Mississippi Braves Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Craig Kimbrel and Biloxi Shuckers alum Josh Hader for making the All-Star rosters.

29 Jun

watch for it

In the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees clash slated for the next three days at Yankee Stadium, we might be lucky enough to see a matchup of Mississippians in a crucial spot: Amory native Mitch Moreland of the BoSox vs. Gulfport’s Jonathan Holder of the Yanks. Moreland, having a strong year (.290, 11 homers, 40 RBIs), typically hits in the middle of Boston’s order. (A left-handed hitter, he isn’t in the starting lineup tonight against lefty CC Sabathia.) Holder, having a breakout season (1.78 ERA in 26 games), has been getting more calls in key late-inning situations for New York. Moreland is 0-for-1 this year and 0-for-2 career against fellow Mississippi State product Holder, a right-hander. Boston hitters are 0-for-8 against Holder in 2018 and were 1-for-15 against him last year. Moreland is 4-for-14 vs. the Yanks in 2018, with a homer, against Masahiro Tanaka, currently out with an injury. He was 10-for-50 last year, with homers against Tanaka and Sonny Gray, Saturday’s scheduled starter. The Red Sox currently lead the Yankees by a game in the American League East. P.S. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, currently pitching on a one-year deal with Minnesota, is considered an attractive trade piece, and one of the teams mentioned by mlb.com as a good fit is – drumroll – the Yankees. After a sluggish start in 2018, Lynn, a veteran who eats innings, is 4-2, 2.40 over his last seven starts.

25 May

‘put me in coach’

Mitch Moreland doesn’t always start for the Boston Red Sox. But when he does, he prefers to rake. The ex-Mississippi State star is batting .311 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs in 34 games (103 at-bats) for the 34-16 Red Sox. The lefty-hitting first baseman has started only 25 games there in a platoon with Hanley Ramirez. Moreland, who re-signed as a free agent with Boston in the off-season, batted cleanup and homered in a 6-3 loss at Tampa Bay on Thursday night. It was his fifth homer in his last 15 games, and he is batting .333 over that stretch. With Ramirez mired in a deep slump, there has been much speculation in Boston media about Moreland, who is also the superior fielder, getting more playing time, even against lefty starters. Certainly seems to make sense. “We’ll figure it out. We’ll find at-bats for Mitch,” manager Alex Cora told mlb.com after Thursday’s game. The Red Sox host Atlanta tonight and with right-hander Julio Teheran scheduled for the Braves, Moreland ought to be in the lineup. P.S. Moreland’s homer was the 139th of his career, moving the Amory native out of a tie with Matt Lawton for 10th place on the all-time list for MLB homers by Mississippi-born players. Brian Dozier is the only other active player in the top 10; the ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton ranks eighth with 158. Ellis Burks tops that chart with 352, followed by Dave Parker (339), George Scott (271), Chet Lemon (215), Dmitri Young (171), Bill Melton (160), Frank White (160), Dozier, Charlie Hayes (144) and Moreland. The not-yet-officially-retired Seth Smith has 126. … Dozier also has seven bombs this season and is tied with Moreland and Tim Anderson (East Central Community College) for the lead in the 2018 All-Mississippi Home Run Derby.