Craig Kimbrel ought to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He preserved a 1-0 win for Atlanta over New York on Saturday by striking out the side in the ninth. (The win became that much larger when Philadelphia, behind Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt, beat wild card challenger St. Louis later in the day; the Braves now lead the Cards by 4 1/2 games.) Kimbrel, the Mississippi Braves’ closer at the end of 2009, has four wins and 45 saves, meaning he has contributed to 49 of Atlanta’s 87 victories. That’s huge impact. Kimbrel’s ERA is 1.71, and he has 123 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings. That’s dominant stuff. He deserves the rookie honor over teammate Freddie Freeman, the former M-Braves first baseman who has had his moments but not enough lately.
It was a great Mississippi moment from a great MLB game on Friday night: Ninth inning, Boston up 4-3 on Tampa Bay, Jonathan Papelbon facing Desmond Jennings. The former Mississippi State star struck out the Itawamba Community College alumnus (who was 3-for-3 with a walk to that point) for the second out, then nailed down the save (his 30th) with yet another K after yielding a base hit. The Red Sox had lost six straight games against the Rays and held just a 3-game edge in the American League wild card battle, so they needed this one. And Papelbon answered the bell, throwing 12 strikes among his 13 pitches, every one touching the mid-90s. Hard to believe it was Papelbon’s first save opportunity since Aug. 18. Game 3 of this compelling four-game series is today at Fenway Park.
P.S. Philadelphia will send Weir’s Roy Oswalt to the bump tonight against St. Louis in a potential bid to clinch its fifth straight National League East title; the Phillies have already sewn up a playoff spot. Oswalt (7-9, 3.88 ERA), who has been a little shaky over his last four starts (15 earned runs in 26 innings), could use a strong outing. Of course, if scuffling Atlanta loses to the New York Mets earlier in the day, Philly will already have clinched the title — and the game becomes that much more important for the Cardinals, who stand 3 1/2 games back in the NL wild card race entering play today. … Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz (1-0, 0.00) makes his second major league start tonight for Colorado against a streaking San Francisco team (six straight wins) that isn’t out of the playoff hunt just yet.
Joey Gathright scored his first major league run in some two years on Thursday night. The Hattiesburg native, once called the fastest man in baseball, is back in The Show with Boston, which plucked him from Yuma in the independent North American League at the end of August. He played a handful of games at Triple-A Pawtucket before Boston recalled him on Tuesday. Alas, Gathright could not help the Red Sox avoid losing to Tampa Bay and seeing their lead in the American League wild card chase drop to 3 games over the resurgent Rays. Gathright, 30, who was hitting .347 with 20 steals for Jose Canseco’s Yuma Scorpions, might yet aid the BoSox cause with his ability to run. The former 32nd-round pick — by Tampa Bay, coincidentally — had 80 stolen bases over his first 445 games in the big leagues and stole 21 bags for Kansas City in 2008, when he was playing somewhat regularly. He was with Boston in 2009. “It was fun getting back around organized baseball,” Gathright told BostonHerald.com after his call-up. “Yuma was fun, but it was independent ball, so having things done the right way and ready to go when you get to the field (was different).”
P.S. Meridian Community College alumnus Cliff Lee allowed one run — a ninth-inning homer — against Florida on Thursday and wound up with a no-decision for Philadelphia, which won the game in the 10th. The remarkable Lee (16-7, 2.38 for the season) has a 0.56 ERA over his last eight starts. … Pablo Sandoval’s cycle on Thursday was the first for a San Francisco player since Fred Lewis, the pride of Wiggins, did it as a rookie in 2007. Lewis, who finished this season in the minors with Cincinnati, hit his first big league homer as part of his cycle.
Maybe the excitement of the postseason pursuit has made them feel young again. Whatever the reason, it was good to see former — and aging — Jackson Generals come up big in big games on Wednesday. Carlos Guillen, soon to turn 36, went 3-for-5 and drove in the winning run for Detroit, which won its 12th straight game and reduced its magic number to 3 for clinching the American League Central title. Lance Berkman, 35, has seen the MVP buzz die down in recent weeks but is still contributing for St. Louis. He went 1-for-3 with a triple and scored a run in a 3-2 win over Pittsburgh. The Cardinals kept pace with Atlanta in the National League wild card race; they’re 4 1/2 games back. And 37-year-old Bobby Abreu went 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI as the Los Angeles Angels beat Oakland and stayed in the hunt in both the AL West (3 back) and wild card (4 1/2 back) races. Though his batting average is down, Abreu recently topped 20 steals for the season for the 13th straight year. He has 393 career steals; he’s sneaky fast. Another old Gen, 34-year-old Freddy Garcia, is 11-7 with a 3.71 ERA for the New York Yankees, who are clinging to a 4-game lead in the AL East.
P.S. Former Mississippi Braves right-hander Charlie Morton took the loss on Wednesday when Pittsburgh clinched its 19th straight losing season. Morton is 9-10 for the 67-82 Pirates.
Three very impressive numbers were posted this season by three Mississippians in the minors. Start with the 103 checked in by Billy Hamilton. The former Taylorsville High star stole 103 bases in A-ball in the Cincinnati system. A wiry shortstop, Hamilton also batted .278 and scored 99 runs. Then there was the 32 rung up by Corey Dickerson. The Brookhaven native and ex-Meridian Community College standout blasted 32 home runs in his first full pro season playing in A-ball for Colorado. Dickerson, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound outfielder, hit .282, drove in 87 runs and scored 78. Last but not least by any means is the 1.78 registered by Drew Pomeranz. The former Ole Miss left-hander posted a 1.78 ERA at three different levels and in two different organizations, Cleveland and Colorado. He also struck out 119 in 101 innings. Then he went out and won his major league debut for the Rockies last Sunday, throwing five scoreless innings.
P.S. A not-so-hot number was logged by Rhyne Hughes, the ex-Pearl River CC standout from Picayune. MLB announced today that Hughes has been given a 50-game suspension to start next season after testing positive for a banned amphetamine. Hughes, who got some big league time with Baltimore in 2010, hit .249 with 15 homers for Triple-A Norfolk this year. It’ll be interesting to see if the Orioles keep him around.
Jason Heyward is hitting .273 since Aug. 17. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s an upward trend, which is a good thing where the former Mississippi Braves star is concerned. For the year, Heyward is batting .223 with 13 home runs and 40 RBIs. It’s been a precipitous fall for the muscular right fielder who made a bid for rookie of the year honors in 2010. Last season, Heyward, assuming the mantle of local hero left vacant by the trade of Jeff Francoeur, batted .277 with 18 homers and 77 RBIs. He also drew 91 walks. He was a force in the lineup. But opposing pitchers seem to have found some holes in Heyward’s somewhat unorthodox swing. He’s still striking out at about the same rate he did in 2010, but his walks are down significantly (42 in 349 at-bats). He slumped at the end of 2010, which some dismissed as a result of a hand injury. But the struggles continued this spring. (It surely didn’t help when he showed up on the cover of Sports Illustrated during spring training.) He became a bench player. Jose Constanza’s recent slump — and ankle injury — opened the door for Heyward to get back in the lineup on a regular basis, and he has looked better. His grand slam on Aug. 23 against the Chicago Cubs was one of his brightest moments since he homered on opening day. He’s driven in 10 runs since Aug. 17. The Braves, still plagued by a lack of offense, could use some from Heyward. They have a big series starting tonight with St. Louis, which is chasing them in the wild card race.
Three American League games with postseason implications are in the books today, and Mississippians played a notable role in the outcome of two of them. At Tampa Bay, Itawamba Community College product Desmond Jennings hit a walk-off home run in the 10th inning to beat Texas 5-4, and at Cleveland, Pascagoula’s Tony Sipp surrendered a seventh-inning grand slam to Detroit’s Victor Martinez that propelled the Tigers to an 8-6 victory. Meanwhile, New York lost to Baltimore 5-4 in 11 innings; Mississippi State alumnus Craig Tatum started behind the plate for the Orioles and went 0-for-2. … Jennings’ homer was his ninth since his late July call-up, and he is hitting .302. Tampa Bay, clinging to faint wild-card hopes, moved within 7 1/2 games of Boston in that race. The Red Sox play at Toronto tonight. … The loss for Texas reduced its lead to 3 games over Los Angeles, which plays tonight at home against Seattle. … Sipp’s blown save was his first of the season; he has been an effective lefty out of the pen. Cleveland, hanging on by a thread in the AL Central, lost all three games of its series with first-place Detroit and now trails by 9 1/2 games. Chicago, down 8 1/2 games to the Tigers, is at Minnesota tonight.
Cliff Lee sliced up the Atlanta Braves on Monday and may have cleared a path for himself to the Cool Papa Bell Award for 2011 in the process. Philadelphia left-hander Lee, the onetime Meridian Community College standout, threw a five-hit shutout at the Braves to run his record to 16-7 with a 2.47 ERA. He is 7-0 with a 0.96 in his last seven starts. And he topped 200 strikeouts for the year on Monday. Plus, he’s doing all this for a first-place club. The Cool Papa Bell Award is given here to the Mississippian (native or college alumnus) who has the best season in the majors; Chris Coghlan won in 2009, Roy Oswalt last year. Evidence is still being gathered, but Lee is the man to beat at the moment. Former Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon (29 saves, 4-0 record, 2.75 ERA for Boston); Ole Miss product Seth Smith (.288, 15 homers, 56 RBIs for Colorado); and ex-MSU standout Mitch Moreland (.270, 16, 48 for Texas) aren’t out of the running, but they’d need some kind of finish to upend Lee.
P.S. Colorado has called up Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz, the hot-prospect left-hander acquired in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal. Pomeranz is 4-3 with a 1.78 ERA in 20 starts over three levels of the minors this season. … Ernesto Mejia took home the Mississippi Braves’ Triple Crown this season — sort of. He set team records with 26 homers and 99 RBIs, and though he lost out to Tyler Pastornicky for the batting lead (.299 to .297), he also set an M-Braves mark for hits with 148.
Props to former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton for reaching the 100-stolen base plateau on Saturday while playing for Class A Dayton in the Cincinnati system. Also on the short list of minor leaguers to reach that mark are Marcus Lawton and Lenny Dykstra. Gulfport native Lawton swiped 111 bags for Class A Columbia in the New York Mets’ system in 1985, two years before he joined the Jackson Mets. Former Jackson Met Dykstra stole 105 bases for Class A Lynchburg in 1983, the year before he played in Jackson. One common thread: Their feats occurred in A-ball, where pitchers don’t do such a good job of holding runners. Still, 100 stolen bases in a season is amazing.
Antoan Richardson was genuinely excited last summer when he was promoted from the Mississippi Braves to Triple-A Gwinnett for the first time. One can hardly imagine how Richardson felt today when he suited up as an Atlanta Brave for the first time, then got a pinch single in his first at-bat. Richardson, the 57th M-Braves alumnus to advance to the majors, has some valuable tools. First and foremost, he can fly. He’s a threat to beat out a bunt and runs down everything in the outfield. Back in Double-A this season for some reason, Richardson, a 5-foot-8, 27-year-old switch-hitter, batted .283 with a .430 on-base percentage and 17 stolen bases in 22 tries. A native of Barbados, Richardson went to Vanderbilt and played in the San Francisco organization before Atlanta signed him as a free agent last year. He’s as friendly a guy as you could meet and a joy to watch play the game.