This was a close call. Drew Pomeranz went 17-6 with a 3.32 ERA last season and was a key player in Boston’s drive to a division title. But Brian Dozier, who also had sparkling numbers, was arguably THE key player in unheralded Minnesota’s drive to a wild card berth. On that basis, the former Southern Miss star is a repeat winner of the Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the best performance by a Mississippian in the majors. Dozier, who also won the 2016 award, batted a career-high .271 (.359 on-base) with 34 homers, 93 RBIs, 106 runs and 16 steals in his fifth full season with the Twins. He was a regular on the highlight shows for his defense at second base. What’s more, he led off the American League wild card game against New York with a home run, though the Twins couldn’t hold the lead. No disrespect to Pomeranz — or for that matter Zack Cozart, Corey Dickerson, Jarrod Dyson, Lance Lynn and Adam Frazier, each of whom had a very good season – but Dozier was simply a cut above. … The award honors Negro Leagues legend Cool Papa Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Previous honorees include Mitch Moreland, Corey Dickerson, Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan.
Brian Dozier makes his first trip to the postseason tonight, and it could be a short stay for the Southern Miss product. Dozier’s Minnesota Twins meet the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the American League’s wild card game. One game, loser goes home. The Yankees are heavily favored. Of course, no one gave the Twins much of a chance of making the postseason at all back in July, after they traded away a couple of key pitchers. Nevertheless, they persisted, to borrow a phrase. From Aug. 5 to season’s end, they went 33-21. They clinched the second wild card with four days left in the season. Dozier, the leadoff batter and emotional leader of the team, batted .303 with 17 home runs and 41 RBIs in August and September. He hit a clutch homer on Sept. 26 that beat Cleveland and reduced Minnesota’s clinching magic number to 1. Tonight’s game will start with Dozier at the plate facing right-hander Luis Severino. The numbers don’t tell us much. Dozier is 0-for-1 with a walk this season against Severino, who went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 2017. Dozier is 2-for-9 this season at Yankee Stadium, 15-for-62 (.242) with two homers there in his career. But there is more to consider than numbers. Dozier, floated as a trade piece in the off-season, wanted to stay with Minnesota, the team that drafted him eight years ago, even though the Twins were not expected to contend. “He had a lot of unfinished business that he wanted to get done,” USM coach Scott Berry told WDAM-TV in Hattiesburg on Monday. Dozier persisted, and he might just be getting started.
Minnesota lost Wednesday night, but Brian Dozier and his Twins mates still enjoyed a postgame celebration. Boston won, but Mitch Moreland and Co. can’t pop the bubbly just yet. There was gloom in Milwaukee for Brandon Woodruff and the Brew Crew, which is running out of chances for a party. The Twins, despite a 4-2 loss to Cleveland, clinched the second wild card in the American League because Los Angeles lost to Chicago. (East Central Community College product Tim Anderson had a game-tying hit in the sixth for the White Sox, who won on Nicky Delmonico’s 10th-inning homer.) “This is a totally different team,” ex-Southern Miss star Dozier told ESPN, referencing the 2016 Twins, who lost 103 games. “It is a totally different mindset.” In the wild card game, Minnesota will visit either New York or Boston. The Red Sox beat Toronto 10-7 – former Mississippi State standout Moreland had a hit and scored in a game-breaking five-run third inning and later added his 21st home run – to remain 3 games up on the Yankees in the battle for the AL East throne. Boston faces a four-game home series against AL West champ Houston to close the season. In the National League, the Chicago Cubs won at St. Louis to clinch the Central Division, eliminating the Brewers, who lost 6-0 at home to Cincinnati. MSU product Woodruff took the loss, yielding the six runs in three-plus innings. “Yeah, it stings a little bit more, especially at the end of the year in this type of race,” Woodruff told The Associated Press. The Brewers are hanging by their fingernails in the NL wild card race, trailing Colorado by 2.5 games with four remaining. St. Louis is 3.5 back, with a game left against the hated Cubs tonight and then three against the Brewers to finish.
While the frontrunners for American League MVP appear to be Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, Brian Dozier deserves at least some honorable mention. The ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton is the engine driving the Minnesota Twins toward an improbable playoff berth. He hit the big home run on Tuesday that helped beat Cleveland and reduced the Twins’ magic number for the second wild card spot to 1. A team that lost 103 games in 2016 is now 83-74 with 38 come-from-behind victories. The Twins, who deployed 10 pitchers in Tuesday’s game, had squandered two leads and were down 6-4 in the eighth when Dozier connected for an opposite-field, three-run bomb. They won 8-6. “That’s what it’s all about … people picking each other up,” Dozier said in a postgame TV interview. Dozier leads the team in games played, hits, runs, RBIs, home runs and walks. He’s also an excellent second baseman. He started rather slowly this season but has hit .291 with 20 homers since the All-Star break. He has 16 homers and 38 RBIs in August and September. For the year, he’s at .264 with 33 homers, 90 RBIs and 102 runs. And to think, there were rumors in the off-season that the club was seeking to trade him. As the analysts like to say, sometimes the best move is the one you don’t make.
It started – and ended – with a Rebel vs. Bulldog confrontation. The worst start of Lance Lynn’s MLB career began on Saturday with a double off the bat of Adam Frazier. Former Mississippi State star Frazier would also be the last batter ex-Ole Miss standout Lynn would face in the first inning of the Pittsburgh-St. Louis game. In between Frazier’s two at-bats – the second resulted in a walk — the Pirates scored six runs. Lynn, who recorded just two outs, would be charged with eight runs all told in the inning and took the loss in the Pirates’ 11-6 victory. Lynn’s ERA jumped almost 40 points to 3.47; his record dipped to 11-8. What’s worse, the Cardinals fell behind Milwaukee in both the National League Central and wild card races. The Brewers’ 4-3 10-inning, walk-off win over the Chicago Cubs moved them 4.5 games back in the division and 1 back of Colorado for the second wild card. St. Louis is 5 back and 1.5 back in those races. In sum, it was a bad time for a bad start for the usually reliable Lynn, a pending free agent. P.S. Ex-State star Mitch Moreland’s 20th homer of the year propelled Boston to a 5-0 win against Cincinnati and closer to clinching the American League East. The New York Yankees clinched at least a wild card by beating Toronto 5-1 but remain 4 back of Boston in the division. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier’s leadoff “little league home run” – he circled the bases on a pair of errant throws – started Minnesota on its way to a 10-4 win over Detroit as the Twins kept a grip on the second wild card in the AL. Kansas City is now third, 4 games back.
Virtually every game played in the American League these days is meaningful, with implications in the division races, the wild card race and/or the best record races. Key situations are magnified, clutch performers identified. Mississippians stepping up on Wednesday included two of the usual suspects: Mitch Moreland and Brian Dozier. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Amory, hit a go-ahead pinch home run in the seventh inning for Boston, propelling the AL East leader to a 7-1 win at Toronto. He added a two-run single in the eighth inning, and now has 18 homers and 63 RBIs on the year. He is hitting .346 over his last 27 games and .257 on the year. “He’s in a good place,” Red Sox manager John Farrell told The Associated Press. Dozier, the former Southern Miss star from Fulton, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and a run in Minnesota’s 11-1 romp past the Chicago White Sox. The Twins moved within a game of AL wild card leader New York (and 7 back of Cleveland in the Central). Dozier, batting .263, has 74 RBIs and 75 runs; that’s 149 runs accounted for in 124 games. He also has 26 homers and 14 steals. He’s in a pretty good place, too. Meanwhile, State alum Kendall Graveman, starting for an Oakland team reduced to a spoiler role, got rocked by the Los Angeles Angels, who are third in the wild card scramble. Graveman yielded three homers and five runs all told over five innings in a 10-8 loss. He got a no-decision but saw his ERA rise to 4.54. P.S. In a Pacific Coast League game that mattered (certainly to him), Hunter Renfroe blasted his third homer in nine games for El Paso. The ex-State star has 12 RBIs and a .526 average since San Diego sent him down to Triple-A.
Time to play three stars again, a minor league version.
Austin Riley: The former DeSoto Central High standout is crushing it for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He had two hits on Thursday at Chattanooga, extending his hitting streak to 10 games and raising his average to .305 in 37 games. He is batting .457 during his streak. The 20-year-old third base prospect has six homers and 20 RBIs for the M-Braves and 18 homers on the season. He has 50 career home runs in three pro seasons. Riley still needs to polish up his defense, but his star is definitely rising.
Brent Rooker: The Mississippi State product, drafted 35th overall by Minnesota in June, went 2-for-4 with his ninth home run in 35 games for Class A Fort Myers. Rooker is now batting .274 at the high-A level after hitting .282 with seven bombs in 22 games in rookie ball. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder should make Double-A next year.
Hunter Renfroe: The MSU and Copiah Academy alum went 3-for-4 and is now 7-for-12 in three games at Triple-A El Paso since his demotion by San Diego. Renfroe, who had 20 homers for the Padres, hasn’t gone yard for the Chihuahuas yet but has three doubles, a triple and five runs. Surely the woeful Padres will bring him back in September.