The suddenly surging Pittsburgh Pirates, the hottest team in baseball, are getting a lot of their juice from Corey Dickerson. The ex-Meridian Community College standout homered for the fourth straight game on Sunday as the Pirates beat Cincinnati 9-2 to extend their winning streak to nine games. Don’t look now, but the Bucs, under former Jackson Mets manager Clint Hurdle, are 51-49 and back in the wild card picture in the National League. Dickerson, once thought to be a possible trade chip, may now be sticking around. An All-Star with Tampa Bay in 2017 before being inexplicably cut loose by the Rays, Dickerson is batting .315 with 11 homers and 42 RBIs for the Pirates. He’s been a steady hitter all season but through the first three months had not shown the power he displayed previously in his career. He went from May 5 to June 30 without a homer. He has hit six in July, five in his last four games, including the 447-foot bomb on Sunday at Great American Ballpark. “My approach changes every day,” Dickerson told mlb.com, noting that he doesn’t always try to hit home runs. Batting mainly in the leadoff spot, he has 10 hits in his last four games and is batting .400 in his last 15. Dickerson and his Pirates mates are in Cleveland today, where their rejuvenation will be challenged by Corey Kluber, ace of the American League Central leader.
Hunter Renfroe’s reputation may have saved a game for San Diego on Saturday. Pittsburgh had the tying run at third base with no outs in the ninth inning but did not challenge the arm of the former Mississippi State standout on back-to-back fly balls to right field. Padres closer Brad Hand then ended the 4-3 game with a strikeout. On the second of the two fly balls to Renfroe, he smacked into the wall in foul territory while making the catch. Many in Petco Park seemed surprised the Pirates did not send Gregory Polanco from third base. “I know that I have a resume that I throw guys out … but in that case, I don’t know why they wouldn’t (run),” Renfroe told mlb.com. It would have taken a good — perhaps great — throw to get the runner. “If anybody’s got the arm strength to do, Hunter does,” Padres manager Andy Green said. Renfroe has two outfield assists this season and 12 in his big league career, nine coming in 2017 when he played more regularly. (He also has 14 errors all told, and he took a bad route on a fly ball hit by Polanco in the ninth that became an RBI triple.) Renfroe also has a reputation for tremendous power but has just four homers this season in 46 games. He went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts on Saturday and is at .252 for the season.
Voting ends Friday for the Triple-A All-Star Game, and if fans have been paying attention, ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson should be leading the pack for Pacific Coast League starting pitcher. Hudson, with the Memphis Redbirds in St. Louis’ system, leads the PCL in wins and ERA. The 23-year-old right hander, the Cardinals’ No. 3 prospect, has won six of his last seven starts to move to 9-2 with a 2.13 ERA. Hudson doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts but, according to scouting reports, generates a lot of weak contact and ground balls with a heavy sinker. Drafted in the first round in 2016, he was the Texas League pitcher of the year in 2017 and got a non-roster invite to 2018 big league camp, where he posted a 1.86 ERA in four games. The Triple-A All-Star Game (see the ballot on milb.com) is slated for Columbus, Ohio, on July 11. Considering all the injuries the Cardinals have had in their rotation, Hudson might be in St. Louis well before then. P.S. There was a Mississippi Big 3 summit of sorts at Minnesota on Wednesday, when Mississippi State’s Mitch Moreland, Ole Miss’ Lance Lynn and Southern Miss’ Brian Dozier all took the field. Dozier, who’s been slumping (.135 his last 15 games), went 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI in the Twins’ 4-1 victory over Boston. Despite fighting command issues, Lynn went five innings for the win, improving to 5-5, 4.64 ERA as he pitched around three hits and five walks. Moreland got one of those hits and drew one of the walks and scored an unearned run on a throwing error. … Pittsburgh put Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College standout, on the family emergency medical leave list and recalled MSU product Adam Frazier from Triple-A. … Houston produced back-to-back-to-back home runs on Wednesday, the first time the Astros have pulled that off in over 10 years. As you might have guessed, former Jackson Generals star Lance Berkman was involved in that previous trifecta.
If you could gather together in some astral realm all the Mississippi natives who’ve ever played in the big leagues, oh, the stories they could tell. Willie Mitchell struck out Babe Ruth in his first at-bat. Gee Walker cycled on opening day. Claude Passeau threw a one-hitter in the World Series. Dave Parker was an All-Star Game MVP. Jay Powell won a Game 7 in the Series. Billy Hamilton stole four bases in his first start. But for sheer shake-your-head wonderment, it’d be hard to top Marcus Thames’ tale of his first major league at-bat. Sixteen years ago Sunday – June 10, 2002 – Louisville native Thames, playing for the New York Yankees, walked to the plate at Yankee Stadium to face Arizona’s Randy Johnson, reigning Cy Young award winner, and smashed the first pitch he saw for a home run. Thames, a 30th-round pick by the Yankees in 1996 out of East Central Community College, took a while to reach The Show but was not a one-trick pony. He hit 114 more MLB bombs – including seasons of 26 and 25 – over his 10-year career and averaged one homer per 15.9 at-bats, which, a Cut4 article on mlb.com points out, is one of the best ratios in history. Thames is now the Yankees’ hitting coach. P.S. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff returned to the majors with Milwaukee on Sunday and, sans red beard, threw four strong innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in a game the Brewers would lose to Philadelphia. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, back up for a seventh stint this season with St. Louis, worked 2 1/3 innings in two games over the weekend. … Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton contributed a triple, two runs and two outfield assists in Cincinnati’s win against the Cardinals on Sunday. A two-week slump has seen Hamilton’s average dip to .193. … Former State standout Adam Frazier was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis by Pittsburgh, presumably to get regular at-bats. In his third big league season, Frazier is batting .237 in 135 ABs.
Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star, has been described as a “bat freak.” As a former MLB teammate once said, “He loves bats and he loves hitting.” Dickerson’s bat, which has produced 95 home runs in six big league seasons, wasn’t the main attraction in his performance for Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. In an 11-9 victory against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dickerson contributed with his baserunning and his defense. Never known for his wheels, Dickerson scored four runs – one on a throwing error, another after beating out an infield hit. Not regarded as a great defensive player, he made a strong throw from left field to double a runner off first base, registering his fifth assist of 2018. It was a big win for the Pirates, who had been shut out in their previous two games. “It looked like everybody kind of had better approaches and had a little more fun tonight,” Dickerson told mlb.com. Acquired from Tampa Bay in a surprising trade this spring, Dickerson – and his bat – have played a big part in Pittsburgh’s surprising start. Clint Hurdle’s Bucs are 31-30. Dickerson, who had three singles on Wednesday, is batting .324 – sixth in the league — with five homers, 32 RBIs and 30 runs. P.S. Coincidentally, three players from Meridian CC, all outfielders, were drafted on Wednesday: Davis Bradshaw in the 11th round by Miami, Sam McWilliams in the 19th round by the Dodgers and Milton Smith Jr. in the 22nd round by the Marlins. Dickerson was an eighth-rounder (by Colorado) eight years ago.
If you enjoy baseball history – and doesn’t everybody? – you owe it to yourself to occasionally take a cyber-stroll through nationalpastime.com’s This Day in Baseball History. You’ll get hooked – and you’ll run across things like this item from the May 26 entry about Daryle Ward, the former Jackson Generals slugger (circa 1997), and his exploits in a 2004 game: “In the Pirates’ 11-8 win over St. Louis at Busch Stadium, Daryle Ward hits for the cycle with a two-run double in the first, a run-scoring triple in the fourth, a three-run homer in the fifth, and a single in the ninth. The Pirates first baseman and his dad Gary become the first father-son combination in major league history to hit for the cycle, with the elder Ward accomplishing the feat 24 years ago with Minnesota.” That’s ballpark-worthy chatter material right there. Daryle Ward, 6 feet 2, 240 pounds in his prime, played 11 years in the majors and hit 90 homers, 231 doubles and a grand total of five triples, two in 2004.
Several stars emerged on Tuesday for Mississippi College, which upended Delta State 9-8 in 11 innings to reach the Gulf South Conference Tournament title game in Cleveland. To name a few: Ryan Lane threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win; Blaine Crim went 3-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs; and Kyle Smith had four hits and four runs, including the game-winner on a DSU error. MC (32-15) plays Lee University today for the championship. … At Trustmark Park in Pearl, four Mississippi Braves collected three or more hits in a 10-3 win against Mobile. Connor Lien got four knocks, including his first homer of the year, and Alay Lago went 3-for-5 with four RBIs for the Double-A M-Braves. … In Erie, Pa., former Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull tossed six shutout innings to record his first Double-A win as the Sea Wolves, a Detroit farm club, beat Harrisburg 3-0. Turnbull is 1-3 with a 4.80 ERA. Mississippi State alum Jake Robson had a hit and an RBI for Erie. … And in Chicago, Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson equaled a career-high with four hits and added two RBIs as Pittsburgh beat the White Sox 10-6. Dickerson, in his first year with the Pirates, is batting .400 over his last seven games and .333 (third in the National League) with five homers and 26 RBIs for the season.
Walk-off bombs are exciting, yes, but a squeeze bunt for the win isn’t far behind on the thrill meter. Former Richton High star JaCoby Jones scored the clincher for Detroit on John Hicks’ perfect bunt as the Tigers took down Tampa Bay 3-2 Wednesday in the 12th inning. No one, including Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire, was expecting Hicks to lay one down with no outs and Jones at third following a triple. “I wish I could’ve said I put a squeeze on,” Gardenhire, the onetime Jackson Mets shortstop, told mlb.com. Jones, a fast runner, scored easily as two Rays collided going for the ball on the right side of the infield. “When I saw the bunt down, it surprised the crap out of me,” Jones said. Jones, playing regularly and playing well for the Tigers, went 3-for-5 to boost his average to .280. … It was a good night, too, for Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout who notched his first win of 2018 as Boston, powered by Mookie Betts’ three homers, beat Kansas City 5-4. Pomeranz, making his third start after beginning the year on the disabled list, allowed eight hits, two walks and three runs in six innings. Reports said his velocity was much improved over his first two outings. … Pittsburgh took its lumps from Washington in a 9-3 loss, but Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College product, continued to shine for the Pirates. He was 2-for-4 with two RBIs and is at .318 with four homers and 20 RBIs for the year. He also stole his third base on Wednesday. P.S. Three former Mississippi Braves played key roles in Atlanta’s 7-0 win over the New York Mets, a victory that propelled the Braves (18-11) into first place in the National League East. Sean Newcomb (2-1) yielded just two hits in seven innings with eight strikeouts; Freddie Freeman ripped three hits to lift his average to .333 and drove in a run; and Johan Camargo, batting .316 in his limited chances, blasted a two-run homer, his fifth extra-base knock in 19 at-bats. Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss star now managing the Mets, saw his club, which started 11-1, drop to 17-11.
Getting out of Tampa Bay, even though it came as a gut-punch, has worked out pretty darn well for Corey Dickerson. McComb native and Meridian Community College product Dickerson is batting .341 for Pittsburgh, which just beat the Chicago Cubs to improve to 9-3, tops in the National League Central. Tampa Bay, which jettisoned Dickerson – a 2017 All-Star – during spring training in an apparent salary dump, is 3-9 and last in the American League East. Dickerson went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks against the Cubs today and has a home run, nine RBIs and nine runs in 10 games this season. He’s not the only Mississippi connection enjoying the unexpected good times in Pittsburgh. Former Mississippi State star Adam Frazier (2-for-5 with a homer today) is batting .292 with four runs and two RBIs, typically as the Pirates’ leadoff batter. The Bucs are managed by former Jackson Mets skipper Clint Hurdle, now in his eighth year with the club, and the hitting coach is Waynesboro native and ex-big leaguer Jeff Branson. The Pirates, by the way, lead the NL in batting.
The emotional rollercoaster passed through Detroit on Friday, taking the Tigers from elation to anger with a final stop at dejection. Richton High product JaCoby Jones was in the middle of the dogpile in the 10th inning after delivering what was first thought to be a game-winning knock against Pittsburgh. Replay said otherwise. Tigers runner Nicholas Castellanos was ruled out at the plate, with McComb native Corey Dickerson – in his Pirates debut – getting an assist on what was a pretty sad throw from left field. Former Jackson Mets star Ron Gardenhire – in his debut as Detroit manager – was ejected arguing the reversal. The game went on, and, as fate would have it, the Pirates won in 13 innings in just under 5½ hours. Football-like weather produced a football-like score – 13-10 – on opening day at Comerica Park. The Tigers blew a save in the ninth and fell behind 10-6 before scoring four in the bottom half to extend the game. Then came the soul-crushing 10th. Jones, who entered as a pinch runner in the seventh inning, had a good day: 2-for-2 with a walk and a run. Of course, he’d have felt a whole lot better about it if he’d also gotten that RBI. For the Pirates, ex-Mississippi State star Adam Frazier went 3-for-7 and scored twice. He was aboard in the 13th when Gregory Polanco hit the game-winning three-run homer. Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum acquired from Tampa Bay in February, had one hit and an RBI in six trips. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss standout Braxton Lee from Picayune made his big league debut for Miami, going 0-for-4 in the 17-inning win against the Chicago Cubs. … Taylorsville High alum Billy Hamilton, batting ninth for Cincinnati, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as the Reds opened their season with a loss to Washington.