The list of players who got a hit, even a home run, in their first major league at-bat is pretty long. A list of players whose only big league hit came in their final career at-bat would have to be short. Nate Rolison’s name is on it. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the former Petal High star’s hit, a single for the Florida Marlins against Philadelphia’s Wayne Gomes. It was a big moment for Rolison, who was 0-for-12 at the time. But he never got another opportunity to bat in The Show. For more on what happened to this once-highly rated prospect, see the story on Mississippi Scoreboard.
MLB’s fall version of March Madness starts Tuesday, and, as you’d expect, there are quite a few Mississippi connections among the 16 teams. Tampa Bay, top seed in the American League, features two Mississippi State products, Hunter Renfroe (.156, eight homers) and Nate Lowe (.224, four homers). Northwest Mississippi Community College alum Cody Reed is on the Rays’ injured list and out for the season. The Rays open with Toronto, which may or may not have Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack (8.15 ERA) in its bullpen; he finished the season on the IL. Ex-State star Jonathan Holder (4.98 ERA) will be in the New York Yankees’ bullpen when they open with Cleveland. The Chicago White Sox, who tumbled at season’s end to the No. 7 seed position, feature former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson (.322, 10 homers, 45 runs), Southwest CC alum Jarrod Dyson (.180, six steals) and Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet (0.00 ERA in five games), a late-season revelation in the bullpen. Milwaukee – and ex-MSU standout Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05 ERA) – snuck into the National League postseason despite losing its final game Sunday to St. Louis, which clinched a spot by winning. The Brewers got in after Tampa Bay, with ex-MSU stars Renfroe and Lowe contributing four hits, a run and an RBI, eliminated Philadelphia and San Diego, with a 2-for-3 and an RBI effort from State alum Mitch Moreland, KO’d San Francisco’s hopes. Milwaukee, which lists a bunch of former Biloxi Shuckers on its roster, draws top-seeded Los Angeles on Wednesday. Atlanta, the 2-seed in the NL, suits up ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley (.239, eight homers) and a host of other former Mississippi Braves. San Diego, the 4-seed in the NL, trots out Moreland (.265, 10 homers) and former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz (1.45 ERA/0.00 over his first 19 appearances). The Padres face St. Louis, which will be missing injured ex-State star Dakota Hudson from its rotation. The third-seeded Chicago Cubs dealt the rival White Sox a hurtful loss on Sunday as Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, making a rare start, went 2-for-4 with a homer, three runs and two steals, including one of home. He is 3-for-11 with three steals since joining the Cubs as a waiver claim on Sept. 7. The Cubs take on Miami, which features former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, who hit .258 with seven homers this season. P.S. There are also a few Mississippians on the coaching staffs of playoff-bound clubs: East Central CC alum Marcus Thames is the Yankees’ hitting coach, Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is the Padres’ bench coach and MSU product Chris Young is the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
He had one job to do. He nailed it. The Milwaukee Brewers needed a win on Saturday to keep their postseason hopes alive. Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State star from Wheeler, went to the bump and delivered his best start of the season. “The story of this game was Woody,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told mlb.com. Woodruff handcuffed the St. Louis Cardinals on two hits and a walk over eight shutout innings in a 3-0 victory. He struck out 10. He retired 19 in a row from the second inning into the eighth. Former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader pitched the ninth for his 13th save. So now, the Brewers’ task for today’s season finale at Busch Stadium is simple: Win and they’re in the National League playoffs. Woodruff has had an uneven season. He’s 3-5 despite a 3.05 ERA. He had not won since Aug. 25 before Saturday’s pressure-packed gem. “I love throwing in these types of games,” he said. As a reward for Saturday’s win, he might get to throw in some more in October. … Meanwhile, at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday, another Mississippi native came up large in a big game. Former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, appearing in just his fifth MLB game, notched his first hold with two scoreless innings for the White Sox against the Cubs. Crochet worked the fifth and sixth innings after the Sox had rallied for a 7-5 lead in a game they’d win 9-5 to keep alive their hopes for an American League Central title. Crochet, a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee in June, has lit up the radar guns since his arrival in the big leagues, throwing 45 pitches of 100 mph or more. He has struck out eight batters in six innings and allowed just three hits and no runs. The 6-foot-6, 218-pound lefty said he never threw all that hard as a kid, so this new-found heat “is pretty cool.”
Corey Dickerson has had a down year by his standards, but the Miami Marlins have had an unexpectedly good year — and as a result, the McComb native is going to the postseason for the first time in his eight-year MLB career. Miami, pegged for a last-place finish in the National League East, clinched second place in the division with a 4-3 win against the New York Yankees on Friday night. Dickerson, who signed with the Marlins as a free agent in the off-season, is batting .259 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 51 games. He hit .304 in 2019, playing with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and is a .284 career hitter with 122 homers. The former Meridian Community College star, 31, was a veteran presence for a Marlins team that was hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak at the start of this truncated season. … Elsewhere on an eventful Friday night: Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman may have had his MVP moment when he launched an 11th-inning walk-off homer for Atlanta, which clinched the No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs. Freeman’s blast upstaged Ronald Acuna’s. The M-Braves alum hit a 495-foot homer, the longest in MLB this season, to lead off the Braves’ first inning. It was Acuna’s 19th career leadoff bomb in three seasons. … Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Trent Grisham hit a seventh-inning walk-off home run, giving San Diego a win against San Francisco in the second game of a twinbill. It was Grisham’s 10th homer and it saved Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz from taking a loss. Pomeranz gave up a three-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Padres behind. Those were the first runs allowed all season by the big left-hander in 20 appearances. The playoff-bound Padres have clinched the No. 4 seed in the NL. P.S. There’s much more at stake tonight in the NL, and no game is more significant than Milwaukee-St. Louis. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers’ No. 1, faces St. Louis’ longtime ace, Adam Wainwright. Both teams are still grappling for a playoff berth. Woodruff is 2-5 with a 3.43 ERA, Wainwright 5-2, 3.05. Woodruff, who went 11-3, 3.62 and made the All-Star Game in 2019, has not had the type of season that was expected of him. He’s 0-2 in four September starts. Win today, and that’ll be forgotten. Several Cardinals have had success against Woodruff in limited at-bats. Paul DeJong is 3-for-9 with a homer, Brad Miller 2-for-6 with a homer and Paul Goldschmidt 3-for-12. Tyler O’Neill also has taken Woodruff deep.
On this date in 1965, Corinth native Don Blasingame got the only hit for the Washington Senators in a 5-0 loss to Jim “Mudcat” Grant and the Minnesota Twins. Strange but true fact: It was the fourth time in Blasingame’s 12-year major league career that he got his team’s only knock in a game. The record for that quirky feat — yes, there is a record for everything — is reported to be five (by Cesar Tovar and Eddie Milner). Blasingame also got the lone hit against Cal Koonce in a 1962 game and against Stan Williams and Moe Drabowsky in 1963 contests. Nicknamed “Blazer,” or the “Corinth Comet,” Blasingame was much more than a four-trick pony. He had 1,366 hits in his big league career (1955-66), batting .258. He got MVP votes in 1957 and was an All-Star at second base for St. Louis in 1958.
Though he doesn’t hit a lot of home runs, Mississippi State product Adam Frazier does have a knack for jump-starting his team’s attack. Frazier hit his ninth career leadoff homer for Pittsburgh on Wednesday night, propelling the Pirates to a 2-1 win against the Chicago Cubs and ace Kyle Hendricks. (Ke’Bryan Hayes – Hattiesburg native Charlie’s kid – followed Frazier’s homer with one of his own.) Frazier, who has 34 career homers over five MLB seasons, is third on the Pirates’ all-time chart for leadoff homers, trailing only Barry Bonds (20) and Al Martin (10). MLB’s all-time leader is Rickey Henderson with a ridiculous 81. Based on a little research in baseball-reference.com, Frazier ranks second – unofficially — among Mississippi-connected players in leadoff shots, trailing only Brian Dozier, who is sitting on the sideline at the moment with 28. Corey Dickerson, still active, has eight, same as Zack Cozart, who is not currently playing. At seven is a group that includes Seth Smith, Matt Lawton, Ellis Burks and Del Unser. Fred Lewis had five and Don Kessinger four. Jarrod Dyson and Billy Hamilton, both active, have three apiece, same as Frank White, Don Blasingame and Eric McNair.
Two more Mississippians had their postseason tickets punched on Tuesday: Austin Riley is in with Atlanta and Billy Hamilton (presumably) with the Chicago Cubs. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Riley did not make the Braves’ postseason roster in 2019 following his rookie year. He hit 18 homers last season but, after a hot start, slumped down the stretch. He has made strides in 2020, batting .239 with eight bombs in 50 games while striking out less and walking more. His defense at third base has been excellent. (In addition to Riley, seven other Mississippi Braves alumni played in Atlanta’s division-clinching win against Miami, its third straight title under former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker.) Taylorsville High product Hamilton was with the Braves in 2019 and got his first taste of the postseason, though he appeared in just two games in the division series loss. He’s not a lock to make the Cubs’ roster, but his speed can be a valuable asset in the outfield and as a pinch runner. He has appeared in nine games for Chicago and is 0-for-1 in steal attempts. … Regardless of whether St. Louis makes the playoffs, former Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson won’t be on the postseason roster. The right-hander was moved from the 10-day to the 45-day injured list on Tuesday with a strained elbow suffered last week. He was 3-2 with a 2.77 ERA.
For the first five weeks of this season, Nate Lowe was stuck in Tampa Bay’s alternate camp, squeezed off of the active roster by the sheer number of infielders. On Sept. 1, an injury to one of those infielders prompted the Rays to recall the former Mississippi State standout. It’s almost an understatement to say he has made the most of the opportunity. The lefty-hitting first baseman is batting .260 with four home runs, 11 RBIs and nine runs in 17 games for a club that is bearing down on a division title and top seed in the American League playoffs. “It’s so fun to come to work every day,” he said in an mlb.com article. Lowe had a blast on Monday night, scoring both of the Rays’ runs in a 2-1 win against the New York Mets and ace Jacob deGrom. Lowe, batting cleanup, walked to lead off the second inning and scored on a sac fly, then hit a laser of a homer to center field in the fourth. That was one of just four hits allowed by deGrom, who fanned 14 in seven innings. Lowe, who hit .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a rookie in 2019, reported for spring training this year much fitter, having dropped about 20 pounds (to 220) from his 6-foot-4 frame. Lowe hit just five homers in 63 games at MSU in 2016 but has found his power stroke in the pros. He hit 43 homers in the minors in 2018 and ’19 as he soared through the Rays’ system. P.S. Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett has gone on the injured list for Washington with a right triceps strain. Barrett made two relief appearances this season; he battled back from myriad arm injuries to return to the big leagues in 2019 for the first time in four years.
San Diego’s win over Seattle on Sunday was cause for two celebrations, though one was a little muted. The Padres, with Mississippi college products Mitch Moreland and Drew Pomeranz doing their part, clinched a playoff berth for the first time in 14 years by beating the Mariners 7-4 in 11 innings at Petco Park. Seattle’s loss handed the New York Yankees a playoff spot, though the Yankees weren’t really in a celebratory mood after losing to rival Boston 10-2 at Fenway Park. Mississippian Jonathan Holder, working in relief, took some lumps for New York in the defeat that snapped a 10-game win streak. For the Padres, who did party down Sunday, Amory native and Mississippi State alum Moreland went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. His double in the 11th inning scored the go-ahead run. He has batted just .185 for San Diego since being acquired from Boston at the trade deadline. Ex-Ole Miss star Pomeranz made his 18th scoreless appearance for the Padres, working the seventh inning for his ninth hold. The Yankees’ Holder, an MSU product from Gulfport, has made 17 appearances in a secondary bullpen role and, after back-to-back rocky outings, has seen his ERA rise to 5.03. The hot-hitting Yankees, whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames (see previous post), are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year and still have a chance to catch American League East leader Tampa Bay. P.S. The sudden retirement of former Jackson Mets standout Ron Gardenhire as Detroit’s manager might open a door for Tupelo native and ex-Jackson State star Dave Clark to get the job. Currently the Tigers’ first base coach, Clark has been a candidate for several managerial posts in the past. He served as interim skipper for Houston at the end of the 2009 season and has managed in the minors. One has to wonder also if Thames’ name might come up.
Somewhat lost in the disappointment that has been the Los Angeles Angels’ 2020 season is the emergence of former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers as an effective bullpen arm. Mayers, in his first season with the Angels, threw two clean innings on Saturday night and picked up the win as his club, now 23-30, rallied past Texas 4-3. Mayers (2-0) now has a 1.80 ERA over 25 appearances; the 28-year-old right-hander has allowed just one earned run in his last 15 games. Mayers spent the first four years of his MLB career with St. Louis, which drafted him out of UM in the third round in 2013. His big league debut in 2016 was cringe-worthy — nine earned runs in 1 1/3 innings as a starter against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball — and he never found any consistency with the Cards. He had a 7.03 ERA in 73 games. But the Angels saw something they liked and claimed Mayers on waivers after last season. Working with new Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway, another ex-Rebels star, Mayers apparently has found something. … Coincidentally, Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn got the start for Texas in Saturday’s game and pitched well — again — only to see his team lose — again. Lynn’s excellent work — he is 6-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 12 starts — has been wasted on an 18-34 team.