01 Nov

ring master

Though he has yet to pitch in a World Series game, Mississippi native Tony Sipp, a free agent since August, figures to collect a second World Series ring in the last three years as a result of the Washington Nationals’ stunning takedown of the Houston Astros. Sipp, a veteran left-handed reliever, was a member of the Astros — but not on their postseason roster — when they won the 2017 title. He appeared in 36 games for the Nationals this season but was released in August when they restocked their bullpen at the trade deadline. The former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star had an uneven season, posting a 4.71 ERA. He had signed with Washington as a free agent coming off a resurgent 2018 season with the Astros, for whom he pitched in the playoffs. In 2017, Sipp endured the worst of his 11 big league campaigns (5.79 in 46 games) and was left off Houston’s postseason roster. Still, he got a ring – his first – after the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Series. At age 36, Sipp’s playing days may be behind him.

28 Oct

tipping point?

There are always many storylines that develop in any World Series game, and umpires do not want to be one of them. In Game 5 on Sunday night, there was a missing ace, an ace on a mission, three big home runs and a clutch double play. There were also issues with balls and strikes. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale was behind the plate at Nationals Park in Washington, where Houston completed a three-game sweep with a 7-1 victory that takes the Astros back home with a 3-2 series lead. The two most contentious ball-strike calls came in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was 4-1 with two outs, and Astros starter Gerrit Cole, very sharp on this particular night, went to a full count on Ryan Zimmerman. The 3-2 pitch was high and away but appeared, on replay, to be a strike. Cole and catcher Martin Maldonado certainly thought so. Barksdale called it a ball. Cole again went full to Victor Robles. The 3-2 pitch again was high and away — but this time, on replay, was clearly a ball. Barksdale emphatically called it a strike, ending the inning. Robles couldn’t believe it and jumped in the air. The Nationals bench went nuts. If it had been a regular season game, people likely would have been ejected. It was Cole’s final pitch — and his ninth punchout — and the Nationals never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The Astros put the game away with a run in the eighth and two more in the ninth. No one blamed Barksdale for Washington’s loss. You give up three two-run bombs, you’re going to lose most of the time. But there has been lots of buzz about the ball-strike calls and how much they can impact the game. Pedro Martinez made some excellent points on the issue on MLB Network’s postgame show. Some are saying it’s time to institute an electronic system for calling balls and strikes, which would be a fundamental change in the grand old game. Will we look back someday on Game 5 of the ’19 Series — the Barksdale game — as the tipping point in that debate?

22 Oct

reelin’ in the years

With Game 1 of the World Series on tap tonight, the time is right to highlight some significant anniversaries with a quick trip through Fall Classics past. Ten years ago, in the 2009 Series, Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee made two starts for Philadelphia and notched the only wins the Phillies managed against the New York Yankees. Left-hander Lee threw a complete game in Game 1, a 6-1 victory, and pitched seven-plus in Game 5, an 8-6 win. He had a 2.81 ERA with 13 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings. Lee won 143 games in his career and went 7-3 in the postseason, though he never won a ring. Twenty years ago, a Mississippi native appeared in the box score of Game 1 of the Yankees’ sweep of Atlanta. Ocean Springs’ Howard Battle was announced as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning but was replaced (by Keith Lockhart) when New York changed pitchers (bringing in Mariano Rivera). That would be the final MLB “appearance” for Battle, who played a couple more years in the minors. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Earthquake Series, a sweep by Oakland vs. San Francisco that involved three Mississippi-connected players. Grenada native Dave Parker, at age 38, went 2-for-9 with a homer (in Game 1) for Oakland. Will Clark was 4-for-16 for the Giants, and his former Mississippi State teammate Jeff Brantley posted a 4.15 ERA in three relief appearances. Ten years prior, Parker had a big impact in the ’79 Series, helping Pittsburgh beat Baltimore in seven games. He had four hits in Game 1 – a Pirates loss – and finished with a .345 average, four RBIs and two runs. Sixty years ago, West Point native and former Southern Miss two-sport star Bubba Phillips went 3-for-10 for the Chicago White Sox as they fell in six games to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Eighty years ago, in the ’39 Fall Classic, Harry Craft, an Ellisville native and Mississippi College alum, went 1-for-11 for Cincinnati in a four-game sweep at the hands of the mighty Yankees. Craft would win a ring with the Reds the next year but got only one at-bat in that Series. In the 1929 Series, Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen, started and won Game 3 for the Chicago Cubs, who lost in five games to the powerful Philadelphia A’s. Bush also made a relief appearance in that series and finished with an 0.82 ERA. Two Mississippi natives – Fulton’s Brian Dozier, a second baseman for Washington, and Brookhaven’s Lance Barksdale, an umpire – will be suited up tonight in Houston. Something significant involving one or both seems almost bound to happen.

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.

29 Oct

one for the history books

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.

24 Oct

power in a pinch

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.

26 May

taking names

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.

28 Oct

pitching and defense

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).

26 Oct

jogging the memory

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.”

25 Oct

the right stuff

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.”