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.
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.
There is a special nook in baseball’s Hall of Neat Feats for players who have stroked pinch-hit home runs in the World Series. Only 21 guys are in this club. Bobby Kielty, an Ole Miss standout in the 1990s, is one of them. Ten years ago this month, Kielty, playing for the Boston Red Sox, connected off of Colorado’s Brian Fuentes, a solo shot in the eighth inning of Game 4 at Coors Field. It gave the Red Sox a 4-1 lead and turned out to be a big run when the Rockies scored twice in the bottom of the eighth. Boston held on to win and sweep the series. That turned out to be Kielty’s last at-bat as a big leaguer. He played seven years in the majors all told, with four different teams. He hit 53 home runs, as many as 13 in one season. He hit one homer in 20 games for Boston in 2007 but made the postseason roster – and then made a little history, as well. The World Series pinch-hit homer club also includes Yogi Berra, Johnny Mize, Elston Howard, Bernie Carbo (who did it twice, also for the Red Sox), and, of course, Kirk Gibson. Who can forget the hobbled, first-pumping Gibson circling the bases after taking Dennis Eckersley deep for a walk-off blast in Los Angeles’ Game 1 win against Oakland in 1988? Many say it propelled the underdog Dodgers to the world championship. Kielty’s pinch-hit bomb wasn’t nearly as significant – but it was special all the same.
Here are a few names to know heading into the weekend: Cameron Baranek, Dominick Cammarata and Wes Degener. … Baranek is the leading hitter for Hope International, which is William Carey University’s first-round opponent on Friday in the NAIA World Series at Lewiston, Idaho. Baranek is batting .356 with 13 homers for a Royals team that is playing just its second season. The California-based Royals (35-16) can mash (66 homers) and dash (101 steals), but their pitching staff has a 4.48 ERA. … Cammarata is the hitting star for Pitt (N.C.) Community College, which is Hinds CC’s first-round foe on Saturday in the NJCAA Division II World Series in Enid, Okla. Cammarata has put up a .349 average, 17 homers and 69 RBIs for a Bulldogs team that is 41-7 with 16 straight wins. … Degener is the catalyst for Lindenwood (Mo.) University, which is Delta State’s first-round opponent on Saturday in the NCAA Division II World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas. Degener is hitting .399 with 21 steals and 54 runs for the Lions (39-18), who won the Central Region title in their first regional appearance. … But enough about those guys. Here are some picks to click for the home boys: Adrian Brown, Quinton Logan and Clay Casey. … Brown, Carey’s senior center fielder from McComb, does a lot of things in a loaded lineup that also features James Land and a band of Tylers (Graves, Odom, James). Brown is hitting .300 with four homers, 16 doubles, five triples, 44 RBIs, 60 runs and 36 steals. If the Crusaders make a run in Lewiston, Brown will be in the thick of things. … Logan, a sophomore from Natchez, is not Hinds CC’s best hitter – that’s Jackson Mitchell (.385, six homers) — and he’s not the Eagles’ ace – that’s Caleb Morgan (8-1, 2.23). Logan is a two-way threat for Hinds, posting a 1.19 ERA and seven saves and a .333 batting average with 11 doubles, 47 RBIs and 42 runs. Somehow, someway, he’ll be a factor in any success in Enid. … Casey, a transfer from Houston (by way of Northwest CC and DeSoto Central), has had a big year for Delta State that has been largely overshadowed by the ginormous year enjoyed by Zack Shannon. Casey is batting .346 (.673 slugging) with 17 bombs, 62 RBIs and 58 runs. If Shannon gets pitched around in Grand Prairie, Casey is certainly capable of picking up any slack.
Don’t be shocked if Cleveland’s pitching staff figures out a way to tame the Chicago Cubs three more times to claim the World Series title. After all, they’ve got Mickey Callaway, the former Ole Miss star, pulling levers and flipping switches – almost always the right ones — as their pitching coach. Over his four years in that role, the Indians have the best ERA (3.72) in the American League. While Cubs-mania has been sweeping the country this postseason, don’t forget that Indians pitchers already have taken down the heavy hitters trotted out by Boston and Toronto. Callaway, who is being touted as a future manager, rates a chunk of the credit. “Callaway has been a difference-maker, a confident communicator whose understanding of how to strategize and harmonize has routinely allowed the Indians to make the most of whatever arms are on hand,” Anthony Castrovince wrote for mlb.com. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton and McComb’s Jarrod Dyson are up for “Best Play, Defense” in the annual Esurance MLB Awards. Hamilton, with Cincinnati, made a jaw-dropping diving snag on Aug. 23, and Dyson, of Kansas City, produced an equally amazing home run-robbing catch two days later. You can vote on this and other yearly awards on mlb.com through Nov. 11. … Hamilton and Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland (Texas) are among the finalists for Gold Gloves in their respective leagues, as are former Mississippi Braves Jason Heyward (Cubs) and Andrelton Simmons (Los Angeles Angels).
Kept seeing and hearing Cliff Lee’s name pop up after Corey Kluber’s brilliant performance for Cleveland in Game 1 of the World Series. Former Meridian Community College star Lee, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2014, never won a World Series ring but did post some impressive postseason numbers that are worth recounting. The stoic left-hander was 7-0 in the postseason at one point and finished 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 starts; he struck out 89 and walked 10 in 82 innings. He was never better than in Game 1 of the 2009 Series, when he was pitching for Philadelphia against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Lee went nine, allowed six hits and a lone unearned run, struck out 10 and walked none. Excellent. He beat the Yankees again in Game 5 of that Series, but those were the only games the Phillies won. Lee won 143 games and a Cy Young Award (with Cleveland in 2008) over his 13 big league campaigns. He averaged 7.6 K’s and just 1.9 walks per nine innings for his career. Baseball America once wrote of Lee that he “will be remembered as a pitcher who had arguably the best control and command of any lefthander of this generation.”
There are players you find yourself rooting against, for whatever reason. It’s hard to find a reason to root against Jason Heyward. He plays hard, and he plays smart. He conducts himself like a professional, which is easy to do when you’re going good, which hasn’t been the case for Heyward here lately. It’s been tough to watch the former Mississippi Braves star scuffle at the plate this postseason. He is 2-for-28 during Chicago’s historic run to the World Series. In the first year of a $184 million contract, Heyward batted .230 with seven homers, 49 RBIs and 11 steals. (His career-highs: .293, 27, 82 and 23.) Yes, he plays a Gold Glove-quality right field, but for the money he’s making, he is expected to hit, too. And he can hit. If you saw him at Trustmark Park back in 2009, you know this first-hand. Arriving on July 4 of that season, as Atlanta’s top-ranked prospect, Heyward batted .352 with seven homers in 47 games for the M-Braves. He was 6 feet 5, cut like an elite athlete and just scary good. He won the right field job in Atlanta the next spring and homered in his first at-bat. A great career surely lay ahead. Yet there was always something odd about Heyward’s swing, and it seems that major league pitchers have gradually learned to exploit the flaws. There have been reports that the Cubs will address those in the off-season. Heyward isn’t in the lineup tonight for Game 1 against Cleveland; ex-Ole Miss star Chris Coghlan, another left-handed hitter, will start in right field. But Heyward will play at some point, and when he does, Cubs fans can rest assured that his head and his heart will be in the right place. “It’s about this team,” Heyward said in a recent interview with CBSChicago.com. “It’s about the team.”
While so much of the attention was on Kyle Schwarber, former Petal High standout Anthony Alford tried to steal a little thunder in the Arizona Fall League on Monday. Alford — in the Mesa lineup with the World Series-bound Schwarber – went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs in a 7-2 win against Surprise. It was the second homer of the fall for Alford, one of Toronto’s top prospects. “I have some power and I’m starting to tap into that power,” the 6-foot-1, 215-pound outfielder told mlb.com. He has just 16 homers in 224 minor league games but is still developing as a hitter. Alford is batting .290 in eight games in the AFL. … Former Richton High star JaCoby Jones, another Mr. Baseball, boosted his AFL average to .429 with a pair of hits for Salt River on Monday. The Detroit prospect has a homer, seven RBIs and four steals for the Mississippi-flavored Rafters. Dylan Moore, who made a splash with the Mississippi Braves in the Southern League playoffs this season, is batting .467 with two homers in four games for Salt River. Shortstop Moore, acquired in August from Texas, went 4-for-9 in the playoffs for the M-Braves after batting .343 with Class A Carolina. He looks like a strong candidate for the M-Braves’ 2017 roster. Also shining for Salt River are M-Braves alums Dustin Peterson (.364) and Kade Scivicque (.273), Biloxi Shuckers star Jacob Nottingham (.258) and Ole Miss alum Chris Ellis (1-0, 3.00 ERA). Former Southern Miss standout Bradley Roney is on the Rafters’ roster but has yet to pitch. … Ex-Mississippi State star Chris Stratton is 1-0, 1.00 in two starts for Scottsdale; he is expected to work again on Wednesday. P.S. Ole Miss product Chris Coghlan (0-for-4 in the postseason) kept his spot today when Schwarber, coming back from a knee injury suffered in April, was added to the Chicago Cubs’ active roster; pitcher Rob Zastryzny was removed. UM fans also have a rooting interest on the other side in the World Series: Former Rebels pitcher Mickey Callaway is Cleveland’s pitching coach.
Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan, a Chicago Cubs outfielder these last three years, took part in the madness at Wrigley Field on Saturday night, a joyous celebration that reverberates in the Magnolia State. If Cubs Nation embraces everyone who ever played for the team, then the upcoming World Series means – or would have meant – a lot to a long list of Mississippians. Aberdeen native Guy Bush and Waynesboro’s Claude Passeau, both deceased, actually pitched in World Series games for Chicago but never celebrated a championship. Of course, no Cub has since 1908. Former Ole Miss star Donnie Kessinger was a fixture at shortstop for the Cubs for 12 years in the 1960s and ’70s but never even played in a postseason game for the team. Rafael Palmeiro, the ex-Mississippi State slugger, came up with the Cubbies in 1986 but didn’t make the playoffs in three years with them. John Stephenson (William Carey), Steve Dillard (UM), Jeff Fassero (UM) and Greg Hibbard (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) also wore the C during the 71-year World Series drought. Adopted Mississippian Dizzy Dean pitched for the Cubs and made it to the Series in 1938 only to leave empty-handed, swept by those damn New York Yankees. Mississippi natives who’ve passed through Wrigleyville during the protracted period of woe include Harry Walker, Billy Cowan, Cleo James, Matt Lawton, Laddie Renfroe, Joey Gathright, Roosevelt Brown, Eli Whiteside and Paul Maholm. And then there’s Dave Clark, the former Shannon High and Jackson State star who is now a coach for Detroit. He spent a couple of seasons with the Cubs — but he came up with Cleveland and played four years for the Indians. He can’t lose.
The time came. In the 12th inning of Sunday night’s Game 5, after a leadoff single by Salvador Perez, Jarrod Dyson’s time came. Inserted as a pinch runner by manager Ned Yost, the McComb native stole second base on a 2-0 pitch. He motored to third on a ground out. Then he trotted home on a hit by Christian Colon, putting Kansas City on top of the New York Mets 3-2. That trickle became a flood of runs. The Royals won 7-2, claiming their second World Series title and first since 1985. After a rather muted postseason to that point (five games, four at-bats, two steals, no runs), the ever-adrenalized Dyson seized his moment. He got a bag. Scored the game-winning run. Earned a ring. “This is what you play for,” Dyson, quoted by the Kansas City Star, shouted as he carried the Commissioner’s Trophy around Citi Field. “This is what you play for, baby, right here.” The 50th-round draft pick from Southwest Mississippi Community College was on top of the baseball world. P.S. Props also go to Yost, the old Jackson Mets catcher. Though the Royals made it to Game 7 of the 2014 Series, very few prognosticators had the team even getting into the playoffs again, much less winning it all this fall. Sports Illustrated, for one, pegged KC fourth in the American League Central. Yost’s club plays hard and smart and is really fun to watch.