Austin Riley drove in three runs in Atlanta’s win on Wednesday night, and Hunter Renfroe’s 30th homer helped Boston secure a victory. Important contributions in critical games. But the feel-good story of the night from a Mississippi perspective was what happened in a relatively meaningless game in Pittsburgh. Trent Giambrone, a 25th-round draft pick out of Delta State five years ago, delivered a pinch-hit single in his first major league at-bat for the Chicago Cubs. Louisiana native Giambrone, who was not on the 40-man roster, was called up from Triple-A Iowa after fellow infielder Patrick Wisdom was placed on the injured list. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone was not having a good year with the I-Cubs, batting just .174, but the Cubs apparently wanted to reward him for grinding through 493 games in their minor league system. He had some good numbers — 17 homers, 26 steals in the Double-A Southern League in 2018 and 23 bombs with Iowa in 2019 — and was impressive in several spring training trials with the big club. His eighth-inning single Wednesday had teammates in the dugout standing and applauding — a moment Giambrone will always remember. He became the sixth Mississippi product to debut in MLB this season and the ninth Delta State alum to make The Show. Others on that list: Barry Lyons, Stewart Cliburn, Eli Whiteside and Jim Miles (the first in 1968). P.S. Shea Langeliers, fresh off winning a championship with the Mississippi Braves and earning Atlanta’s minor league player of the year honor, made his Triple-A debut on Wednesday. Catching and batting sixth, Langeliers went 0-for-3 with a walk in Gwinnett’s 6-1 win over Jacksonville. He hit .258 with 22 homers for the M-Braves.
Four Mississippians took the field in four of the biggest games on a compelling Tuesday night in the big leagues. Their results were a mixed bag. Only former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley celebrated a win, but he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and four stranded runners in Atlanta’s gut-churning 2-1 victory against Philadelphia in the crucial National League East showdown. Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, hit his 29th home run for Boston but saw his team lose to Baltimore and fall 2 games back of first-place New York in the crazy American League wild card race. Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a double and an RBI for Toronto, but the Blue Jays lost to the Yankees and slipped to fourth in the wild card standings, behind both Boston and surging Seattle. MSU alum Brandon Woodruff started for Milwaukee but lasted just four innings in the Brewers’ loss to St. Louis, which won for the 17th straight time and clinched the second NL wild card in the process. The Brewers have already clinched the Central Division crown. The big games continue tonight with the Braves, leading Philly by 3.5 games, sending ex-Mississippi Braves star Max Fried (13-7, 3.12 ERA) to the bump at Truist Park. P.S. Houston, which has not yet clinched the AL West, put State product Kendall Graveman, one of its key relievers, on the paternity list on Tuesday. The Astros, with a magic number of 1 to put away Seattle, are hosting AL East champion Tampa Bay. Houston won the series opener 4-3 on a walk-off walk. The Mariners are hosting Oakland.
Buried in the box score of a dreary performance by the last-place Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday there is a bright spot. Petal High alumnus Anthony Alford went 2-for-4 and scored the Pirates’ lone run (on a wild pitch) in a 13-1 loss to Cincinnati. Since getting a second chance with the Bucs this season, Alford has made the most of it. The 27-year-old outfielder is batting .300 (.378 on-base percentage) over his past 15 games. He has boosted his season average to .229 and has five homers, 10 RBIs, 13 runs and five stolen bases in 43 games. In four previous MLB trials, dating back to his debut with Toronto in 2017, Alford had never played more than 18 games. Injuries — and poor performance — have hounded him. After an awful start with Pittsburgh this season, Alford was designated for assignment, taken off the 40-man roster and shipped to the minors in April. He responded by batting .307 with 14 homers at Triple-A Indianapolis. When the Pirates had a need in early August, they brought Alford back. “That’s never an easy thing to do,” he recently told dkpittsburghsports.com. “Overcoming that, staying positive, making those adjustments.” He made a brief detour to the injured list in mid-August but has managed to stay healthy since. He’s likely fighting for a 2022 job. Pittsburgh keeps running him out there, which is a good sign.
The ball rose into the night sky and landed in the glove of C.J. Alexander. The Mississippi Braves third baseman squeezed it for the final out, and after a 13-year wait, the M-Braves’ second league championship was also secured. Gloves and caps flew in the air, and jubilant players rushed to the pitcher’s mound for a group embrace. The M-Braves beat Montgomery 2-1 Sunday in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Double-A South Championship Series before a small (877 announced) but enthusiastic crowd at Trustmark Park. Atlanta’s Double-A club won the Southern League title in 2008, its only other pennant since moving to Pearl in 2005. Jackson’s Double-A Texas League teams (the Mets and Generals) won a combined five championships during the franchise’s 25-year run (1975-99) at Smith-Wills Stadium. Of all the M-Braves teams over the past 16 years, this one arguably was the best — and not just because it finished with the best record in the league over the course of the season. The roster featured numerous highly rated prospects, most of whom were on the field Sunday. The pitching staff, which finished second in the league in ERA, was thinned of some of its best arms by promotions, but starter Alan Rangel and three relievers delivered on Sunday. Rangel, 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven games with the M-Braves, allowed only three hits and an unearned run in six innings, punching out eight. Alexander delivered a run-scoring double that tied the score at 1-1 in the second inning. Greyson Jenista, batting in the 9-hole, launched his third home run of the series in the fifth to put the M-Braves ahead. It was fitting that a home run would be the crucial hit. The team blasted 143 homers during the season, second-most in the league and far and away the most ever by an M-Braves club. This team battled through the constraints of COVID-19 protocols and endured a midseason managerial change to claim this championship. The ending wasn’t as exhilarating as in 2008 — a walk-off double-steal in the decisive game — but it did have some drama. Center fielder Justin Dean made a spectacular diving catch for the second out of the ninth. The tying run was at second when Nolan Kingham induced the foul pop that landed in Alexander’s glove. It’s often said that the minor leagues are all about player development. But if you witnessed the M-Braves’ celebration Sunday night, you know that’s not really true. Winning matters.
Dakota Hudson returned just in time to have a hand in an historic win by St. Louis on Friday. The Mississippi State product, coming back from elbow surgery a year ago this month, worked 3 2/3 solid innings for the W as the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 12-4 to match the franchise record with 14 straight wins. The Cards won Game 1 of the doubleheader 8-5, beating George County High alum Justin Steele in the process. Surging St. Louis, which blasted eight homers on the day at Wrigley Field, has climbed from 3 games back of the second wild card in the National League to 5 games ahead of that pack. “It was just fun to get out there and compete,” said Hudson, who relieved Jack Flaherty — also making an injury comeback — in the first inning and allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts as he pitched through the fourth of the 7-inning game. A former first-round draft pick, Hudson is now 24-10 with a 3.20 ERA since arriving in the big leagues in 2018. … The last Cardinals team to win 14 straight was the Dizzy Dean-led Gas House Gang of 1935. P.S. On a crazy night at Trustmark Park, the Mississippi Braves took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Double-A South Championship Series with an 11-9 victory against Montgomery. The M-Braves go for the title tonight at the TeePee. Game 3 featured three homers (Drew Lugbauer, Greyson Jenista and C.J. Alexander) by the slugging M-Braves, who built an 11-4 lead with a six-run eighth. The last three outs proved a little hard to come by. It took three pitchers to nail it down in the ninth, when the Biscuits hit two bombs. With what was left of a crowd of about 2,000 screaming for the final out, Nolan Kingham ended it with a controversial strikeout, stranding the tying runs at first and third. He was the last of 12 pitchers who took the mound for the two clubs. There were 24 hits and four errors in the near 4-hour game plus a weird 5-2-6-4-6 double play that featured M-Braves shortstop Braden Shewmake running down two baserunners.
At Trustmark Park in Pearl, the Mississippi Braves will try to take another step toward their second pennant when they host Montgomery in Game 3 (6:35 p.m.) of the Double-A South Championship Series. The M-Braves, 2008 champs in the Southern League, evened the series at 1-1 with an 8-5 win in the second game on Wednesday. Spencer Strider (3-7, 4.71 ERA), a 2020 Atlanta draft pick out of Clemson, goes to the bump for the M-Braves. The right-hander has 94 strikeouts in 63 innings over 14 starts. Trey Harris drove in three runs, Wendell Rijo homered, Justin Dean stole two bases and scored twice and the M-Braves bullpen finished with four scoreless innings in Game 2.
At Canal Park in Akron, Ohio, former Mississippi State standout Konnor Pilkington starts for the Akron Rubber Ducks in Game 3 of the Double-A Northeast title series against Bowie. The Ducks are up 2-0. Pilkington, a left-hander, went 3-2, 2.33 for Akron after coming over to Cleveland’s system from the Chicago White Sox. He is 7-6, 3.04 overall in 2021. Bowie’s shortstop is ex-State star Jordan Westburg, who hit .232 with four homers for the Baltimore farm club; he has 15 homers on the season.
At Wrigley Field, George County High product Justin Steele will try to stop St. Louis’ 12-game win streak when the rookie left-hander takes the mound for Chicago in Game 1 of a pair. Steele is 1-3, 5.12 in seven starts since the Cubs moved him from the bullpen. None of the Cardinals hitters have faced him. In the unlikely event the lowly Cubs sweep the Cardinals today, Milwaukee can clinch the National League Central with a win against the visiting New York Mets at American Family Field.
And at Fenway Park, there’s the always enthralling renewal of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Boston leads New York by 2 games in the American League wild card battle with Toronto lurking a game back of the Yanks. Gerrit Cole (15-8, 3.03) starts for the Yankees; ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, the Red Sox’s right fielder, is 3-for-18 with no RBIs career against the right-hander.
Here’s a very interesting and very telling statistic about the 2021 Chicago White Sox: Heading into the first game of a twinbill at Cleveland today, the White Sox were 32-4 when Tim Anderson drove in at least one run. So, yeah, it was a pretty good omen when the former East Central Community College star led off with a home run. The White Sox (86-66) rolled on to a 7-2 victory that clinched the American League Central championship, their first in 13 years. Anderson finished 3-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs. For the year, the dynamic All-Star shortstop is batting .306 with 16 bombs, 58 RBIs, 90 runs and 17 stolen bases. He might not be the league MVP, but he is certainly the straw that stirs the ChiSox’s drink. Former Ocean Spring High standout Garrett Crochet got a couple of outs in the game. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, both contributors in their first year with the club, didn’t play but were on the field for the largely subdued postgame celebration. They had another game to play.
One run allowed on two hits and a walk over six innings. Ten strikeouts. An excellent day’s work for a big league pitcher — but not quite good enough for Milwaukee’s starter on this particular day. Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State standout from Wheeler, hung up that pitching line against St. Louis on Tuesday night but suffered a loss. Woodruff has seen this movie before. Despite a 2.52 ERA, one of the best in MLB, Woodruff’s record is 9-10. He surpassed 200 strikeouts on the season but had no reason to celebrate. The Brewers’ lone run in the 2-1 loss came after Woodruff had departed. They have scored an average of 2.82 runs in his 29 starts. That’s the worst run support for any qualified pitcher in the majors. “It’s a hard game, man,” Woodruff told mlb.com postgame. “We’re doing everything we can.” Milwaukee has clinched a playoff berth but not the National League Central title. The magic number remains 3 to put away the Cardinals, who have won 10 in a row. The two meet again today in Milwaukee. P.S. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley’s 30th home run of the season propelled Atlanta to a 6-1 win over Arizona and kept the first-place Braves 3 games up on Philadelphia in the NL East. … Another former Mississippi Braves standout, Tommy LaStella, led off the game with his sixth homer to help San Francisco beat San Diego 6-5 and stay a game up on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
A panel of “MLB experts” overlooked Austin Riley in a recent mlb.com poll regarding top MVP candidates; he didn’t get a single vote. Those who follow the Atlanta Braves closely are scratching their heads. Former DeSoto Central High star Riley has been a major player in the Braves’ drive to the top of the National League East this summer, and he was at it again on Monday night. The Braves’ slumbering offense finally broke out in an 11-4 win at Arizona. Riley, the cleanup batter, contributed three doubles and three RBIs. For the year, the 24-year-old third baseman is batting .300 with 30 doubles, 29 homers, 92 RBIs and 81 runs. Since the All-Star break, he has batted .333 with 15 homers and 50 RBIs. He has been outstanding on defense, as well. It hurts Riley’s MVP case that he plays on a team that also features, among others, Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies and Adam Duvall, who’ve had many shining moments. The Braves have potentially crucial series looming against San Diego (Sept. 24-26) and Philadelphia (Sept. 28-30). Might be an opportunity for Riley to win over some voters. P.S. Tonight in Milwaukee, Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff (9-9, 2.55 ERA) gets his shot at stopping surging St. Louis, which has won nine straight to jump to second in the wild card race. … Ex-Ole Miss star Chris Ellis, who has found new life as a starter for Baltimore, won’t get a shot at the Phillies tonight because of arm fatigue. Ellis has been pushed back in the rotation because of a tired arm. He has a 2.82 ERA in five starts for the O’s. … Tampa Bay, running away with the American League East, sent Cody Reed to Triple-A Durham for a rehab appearance on Sunday, and the ex-Northwest Mississippi Community College star threw a scoreless inning. The left-hander might be due for a return to the big leagues.
The Mississippi Braves will open the Double-A South Championship Series at Montgomery, a Tampa Bay affiliate against which the M-Braves have an unhappy history. The M-Braves, regular season champs in the league, will take on the Biscuits on Tuesday in Game 1 of the 5-game series. Game 3 (and any remaining games) will be played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park beginning Friday. The M-Braves lost their inaugural game against Montgomery in 2005 and also lost their home opener to the Biscuits that season. In 2007, when the M-Braves made the playoffs for the first time, Montgomery knocked them out. This is the M-Braves’ fifth playoff appearance; they won the Southern League pennant in 2008. Mississippi ranks second in the Double-A South in ERA and homers but seventh in batting average. Montgomery is third in batting average, fourth in homers and fourth in ERA. … Several Magnolia State products were on the final regular season roster of minor league teams making the postseason. Ex-Mississippi State star Konnor Pilkington is with Akron, which meets Bowie and Bulldogs alum Jordan Westburg in the Double-A Northeast title series. Southern Miss product Matt Wallner plays for Cedar Rapids, which is in the High-A Central series. Ex-MSU standout Hunter Stovall and Ole Miss alum Will Ethridge are with Spokane in the High-A West. Will Bednar, a first-round pick from State this year, finished his 2021 campaign with San Jose, which is in the Low-A West series. And former Northeast Mississippi Community College standout Tyler Samaniego pitches for Bradenton in the Low-A Southeast. … The Triple-A seasons continue through this month. P.S. After a Triple-A tour during which practically nothing went right, former Ole Miss star David Parkinson went down to Double-A and got a shot of confidence on Sunday. Parkinson, 1-11 with a 7.93 ERA for Lehigh Valley in the Philadelphia system, threw three clean innings to notch a save in Reading’s last game of the season.