Can’t let September end without another nod to the 1985 Jackson Mets, who won the Texas League championship in this month 30 years ago. The ’85 JaxMets, managed by Sam Perlozzo, won the second half in the TL East, beat Arkansas 2-0 in a best-of-three division playoff and then swept El Paso four straight for the pennant. But it wasn’t a season of smooth sailing. Injuries and inconsistency marked a first half that saw the team finish 31-35, which many felt was not indicative of its talent. Perlozzo, who had won titles in 1983 at Class A Lynchburg and ’84 in Jackson, called it his “most challenging season.” The team was led by a strong core of future big leaguers: Biloxi native Barry Lyons, Dave Magadan, Kevin Elster, Mark Carreon, Randy “Moose” Milligan, Keith Miller and Stanley Jefferson. The pitching staff featured DeWayne Vaughn, Dave Wyatt, Craig Weissmann, Tom Burns, Jim Adamczak and Ed Pruitt. The El Paso team they encountered in the championship series was stocked with sluggers like Joey Meyer (37 homers that year), Billy Jo Robidoux (133 RBIs) and Glenn Braggs. Chris Bosio was the Diablos’ ace. The JaxMets went to El Paso’s hitter-friendly Dudley Field for the first three games and won them all, then came back to Smith-Wills Stadium for the clincher. The September surge was a case of a very talented team finding its form at the right time, and it produced the last of the JaxMets’ three TL championships.
Joey Butler was hitting .347 on June 13. A few days later, the Pascagoula native hit his sixth home run in just his 40th game of the season with Tampa Bay. On July 1, he broke up a no-hitter with two outs in the ninth inning. And, well, there are few highlights since. Butler, a 29-year-old rookie who had cups of coffee with Texas and St. Louis before this season, is still on the Rays’ roster. But his productivity and playing time have been in a slow fade. He got just eight hits in July, five in August and is 1-for-9 in September. He was even sent back to Triple-A for a time. All in all, Butler has had a good year, batting .269 with six homers, 24 RBIs and five steals in 86 games. He is said to be a great guy in the clubhouse. And the team (76-81) was 31-28 in his starts, which is something the Rays might want to remember as they plan for 2016. P.S. Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton had shoulder surgery on Tuesday and now faces 4-6 weeks of rehab. Reports say he will work on “hitting and bunting” this off-season in California. In his second full season with Cincinnati, Hamilton hit .226 (.274 on-base percentage) with an MLB-best 57 stolen bases.
Under the category of Best 2015 Season by a Former Mississippi Braves Hitter, there are quite a few viable candidates. Yunel Escobar is batting .318 with nine homers and 56 RBIs and has played a good third base for Washington. Once viewed as troublesome, Escobar may be the least of the Nationals’ worries. Jason Heyward has been a linchpin for playoff-bound St. Louis, hitting .289 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs and playing Gold Glove-caliber right field. In Miami, Martin Prado is at .289 with nine homers and 61 RBIs. Freddie Freeman, one of only two ex-M-Braves playing regularly in Atlanta, is hitting .280 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs, and Andrelton Simmons, the defensive whiz, checks in at .261. Evan Gattis has 27 homers and 87 RBIs for Houston, which is battling for a postseason berth, and Brian McCann has 26 bombs and 92 RBIs for the New York Yankees, who are doing the same. Gregor Blanco, not a regular in San Francisco, has hit .291 with five homers and 13 steals. And Jeff Francoeur (.260, 13 homers, 45 RBIs) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.247, eight, 21 in 66 games) have had nice bounce-back years in Philadelphia and Arizona. P.S. Jorge Lopez, a 12-game winner for Biloxi this season, is slated to make his big league debut tonight for Milwaukee at San Diego. He will be the last of the six Shuckers called up this month to get in a game. (For the record, Tyler Wagner was the first to appear, back in May.) Lopez is the Brewers’ No. 8 prospect (by mlb.com) and was the organization’s pitcher of the year. … Shuckers shortstop Orlando Arcia, not in The Show yet, has been awarded a Rawlings Gold Glove for defensive excellence in the minors this season. Only nine Gold Gloves are given out each year for all the minor leagues. Arcia recorded a .978 fielding percentage and turned 82 double plays in 123 games for the Shuckers. And he can hit, too.
Tony Sipp was sharp, Lance Lynn wasn’t, but both Mississippians were on the winning side in big games on Monday night. Brian Dozier went hitless but produced a sacrifice fly as his team won. Mitch Moreland was 1-for-4, but it wasn’t enough to help his club get a W. With the pressure building in the last week of the MLB season, Sipp was up to his task for Houston. The former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star entered in the seventh inning against Seattle and promptly picked a runner off first base. He then retired all five batters he faced, notching his 13th hold while preserving a 3-2 Astros lead that held up. Houston gained a game on first-place Texas in the American League West and is now 1.5 games back. The Astros are a half-game up on the Los Angeles Angels for the second wild card and 1.5 games ahead of Minnesota. The Twins, with the aid of Southern Miss alum Dozier’s 76th RBI, beat Cleveland 4-2. Former Mississippi State star Moreland and the Rangers lost to Detroit 7-4. In the National League, St. Louis beat Pittsburgh 3-0 with a three-run ninth inning and moved 4 games up on the second-place Pirates in the Central. Ole Miss product Lynn started for the Cardinals and went five innings, throwing 96 pitches. He allowed four hits and four walks — but nary a run. Buckle your seatbelts. Six days left. P.S. Statistically, Jonathan Papelbon had a good year: 24-of-26 in save opps, 4-3 record, 2.13 ERA, 1.03 WHIP. But no one will remember that. What they’ll remember is that the State alum finished the season on suspension, three games for hitting an opposing batter and four for attacking a Washington teammate. His off-season will be interesting.
Ole Miss product David Goforth, seeking to nail down a role in Milwaukee’s bullpen next year, picked up his first career win on Sunday. Goforth pitched a scoreless eighth inning against St. Louis, then benefitted from the Brewers’ seven-run rally in the ninth. They won 8-4. Goforth, 26, first called up in May, has made 18 appearances and put up a 4.09 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 22 innings. After converting from starter to closer in the minors and saving 27 games at Double-A Huntsville in 2014, Goforth was considered a candidate to close in the big leagues. Speculation now is that he may be better suited to a set-up role. Listed at 5 feet 10, 205 pounds, the Meridian native and ex-Neshoba Central star throws hard. He is on a list – surprisingly long — of pitchers who have hit 100 mph. That’s a nice weapon to have. P.S. On this date in 1978, Brian Cole was born in Meridian. Before his life was cut tragically short in a 2001 car wreck, Cole was one of the most promising players the state has produced. After starring at Meridian High, he played a year at Navarro Junior College in Texas, hit a reported .524 with 27 homers and was named Baseball America’s juco player of the year. The New York Mets drafted him in the 18th round in 1998, and two years later he was their minor league player of the year and No. 3-rated prospect. It’s so very sad that he’s gone.
Let’s recap here. The first-place Washington Nationals deal for former Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon, who was clamoring for a trade out of Philadelphia, and demote their closer, Drew Storen, to give Papelbon that job. The team, for whatever reason, goes into a funk, falling out of first place. In a crucial series at home against the New York Mets from Sept. 7-9, the Nats are swept, with Papelbon taking the loss in the memorable middle game in which the Mets overcame a six-run deficit. On Wednesday of last week, with the Nationals essentially out of the playoff race, the tempestuous Papelbon hits Baltimore’s Manny Machado with a pitch and gets ejected. Nats star Bryce Harper, seemingly unhappy about the incident, says he expects to get hit the next day. (He doesn’t.) Papelbon gets suspended for three games for the intentional HBP – recall that last year he was suspended after making an obscene gesture toward Phillies fans — but he appeals and plays on. Fast forward to today’s game at home against Philadelphia, Papelbon’s former team. Papelbon appears to instigate a fight with Harper in the dugout after Harper popped out and jogged to first base. Harper, ruffled but not injured, leaves the game, and Papelbon goes out and gives up a two-run homer plus three more runs. He gets yanked and exits to boos. Yes, the Nationals lose in their home finale. Fun times in Washington, huh? The question now is, What do the Nationals do with Papelbon? He has a year left on a 5-year, $61M contract and finding another team willing to take him might be very difficult.
100 – Runs this season for Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star who scored again in Minnesota’s big (aren’t they all now?) win over Detroit on Saturday. Dozier has reached the 100-run mark each of the last two years.
22 – Years since Toronto last made the postseason, a drought that has ended on the watch of manager John Gibbons, the second former Jackson Mets catcher to get a team into the 2015 American League playoffs. (Ned Yost of Kansas City is the other. Former JaxMets skipper Clint Hurdle has his Pittsburgh team in the National League postseason, and the New York Mets are in, too, as NL East champs, though there are no former OJMs with the team in any capacity.)
12 – Holds by Tony Sipp, the ex-Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star who notched his latest for Houston on Saturday in a crucial win against Texas in their AL West scrap.
5 – Hits by Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian CC standout, in Colorado’s two wins over NL West leader Los Angeles Dodgers in their current series. Dickerson, batting .323, also has three RBIs and three runs in the two games.
2 – Hits by Fred Lewis, the Gulf Coast CC product who added an RBI in Southern Maryland’s Freedom Division series clincher against Lancaster on Saturday. Jackson native Stan Cliburn’s club next plays for the independent Atlantic League championship.
0 – At-bats for Ed Easley, the former Mississippi State star, since St. Louis recalled him to the majors on Sept. 11. Easley is still seeking his first big league hit.
Ole Miss fans of a certain age will remember John Shaw, a star second baseman for the Rebels from 1968-70. Shaw is among the five athletes being inducted into the Ole Miss M-Club Alumni Hall of Fame this weekend. Shaw led the SEC in stolen bases three straight years, twice earned all-league honors and helped Tom Swayze’s team win the SEC championship in 1969. … Southern Miss will again host the C-USA Tournament at Taylor Park. Dates are May 25-29, 2016. USM has hosted the tournament five times previously but never won the title as the host school. The Golden Eagles’ lone tournament championship came in 2010, when the event was in Houston. … USM started fall ball on Sunday, with 16 newcomers joining a crop of returnees that includes five regulars – second-team All-C-USA pick Tim Lynch among them — from a 36-win team. … Mississippi State needed to do some rebuilding after last year’s disappointing finish, and coach John Cohen may have the parts to put together a better club in 2016. State’s recruiting class was ranked No. 3 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. Among the 22 newcomers are three players who were drafted by MLB clubs and three state players of the year. Here’s one to watch: Nate Lowe, a first-team NJCAA All-America pick and the Florida juco player of the year. He hit .373 with 17 home runs and 53 RBIs at St. Johns River State College. … Ole Miss’ recruiting class was rated No. 23 by Collegiate Baseball, USM’s was not in the Top 25. … One of Jackson State’s big signees for 2016 was C.J. Newsome, a 5-foot-7 outfielder from Columbia High. Newsome, who batted .350 and stole 25 bags as a senior, was drafted by Miami in the 38th round in June. There must have been a big sigh of relief at J-State when Newsome didn’t sign.
Oh, the Kansas City Royals celebrated on Thursday night. The video evidence is there. Much champagne and beer were spilled after the 10-4 win against Seattle. The Royals – and Mississippians Jarrod Dyson and Louis Coleman — are American League Central champs. But this celebration was different from last year’s, when the Royals claimed a wild card and made the postseason for the first time in 29 years. “We expected this from the first day of the season,” manager Ned Yost, the ex-Jackson Mets catcher (1976-77), told the Kansas City Star, adding that he has “eyes on a much bigger prize.” That would be the World Series crown, which KC was one victory from taking last season. The oft-criticized Yost still has a losing record as a big league manager (919-967) and is under .500 as the Royals’ skipper (462-465). But he has now produced three straight winning seasons, and note that many predictions did not have the Royals as a playoff team in 2015. Yost, third in the AL manager of the year voting in 2014, might be due for that honor. … Dyson, from McComb, and Coleman, from Schlater, didn’t play in Thursday’s clincher. Dyson, the pinch-running and defensive specialist, wasn’t needed, and Coleman reportedly is nursing an arm injury. Dyson has 28 runs, 26 steals and eight outfield assists in 83 games. Coleman, a recent call-up, has worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings but none since Sept. 13. P.S. The spotlight tonight should be on Houston, where the Astros and Texas Rangers begin a three-game series that could settle the AL West. Houston, long the front-runner in the division, now trails red-hot Texas by 3.5 games. Former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland from Amory has been a force in the heart of Texas’ lineup. Tony Sipp, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum out of Pascagoula, is a lefty specialist in the Houston pen. The pair could meet in a big moment this weekend.
Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star, was rated the No. 2 prospect in the Appalachian League by Baseball America. Riley, drafted 41st overall by Atlanta in June, batted .351 with five homers and 19 RBIs in 30 games for Danville in the rookie Appy League. He hit seven homers in 30 Gulf Coast League games before his promotion. BA’s Hudson Belinsky had a lot of good things to say about Riley in an on-line chat on the magazine’s web site. To wit: “Riley has a chance to stay in the dirt (at third base) and has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order bat. (Houston prospect Kyle) Tucker’s track record is stronger, and he surged towards the end to cement himself as the (league’s) top prospect, but Riley’s surge is real.” … Riley is on Atlanta’s Instructional League roster, along with former Murrah star Zack Bird and John Gant, both of whom pitched for the Mississippi Braves this season, and Southern Miss product Bradley Roney, who pitched in A-ball.