The Texas Rangers ended a somewhat grueling 12-year wait to get back to the World Series, beating Houston 11-4 Monday night in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. There was a Mississippi State product on that 2011 Texas team, which lost in seven games to St. Louis after leading 3-2; Mitch Moreland went 1-for-10 in the Series. Coincidentally, two former Bulldogs stars are on the current Rangers roster: first baseman Nathaniel Lowe and reliever Chris Stratton. Lowe went 7-for-27 in the ALCS with two homers, including a two-run blast in the sixth inning of Game 7. Stratton pitched in Games 3 and 4, giving up a couple of runs in his first outing, working 1 2/3 scoreless innings in his second. This Rangers team bashed its way through the regular season, leading the league in runs, home runs, batting average, slugging and on-base percentage. And they bashed their way to victory at Minute Maid Park on Monday: 15 hits, four walks, four homers, two by the polarizing Adolis Garcia. On the receiving end of some of that bashing was MSU alum J.P. France, the 28-year-old rookie who had pitched so well for Houston during the season (11-6, 3.83 ERA) and in his Game 2 appearance (2 1/3 scoreless). The fourth pitcher called on by Dusty Baker, France came on in the fourth with the Astros down just 4-2. It was 8-2 when he was finally pulled with two outs. The game essentially got away from Houston as France was left twisting in the wind. Six of the eight batters he faced reached, and he threw only 13 strikes among his 28 pitches. Texas, which will face the winner of tonight’s Arizona-Philadelphia Game 7 in the World Series, has never won a championship, though manager Bruce Bochy can claim three.
While in the grip of postseason fever, here’s a well-deserved shout-out to Luther Hackman, the former Columbus High star who took MVP honors in back-to-back Taiwan Series in 2008 and ’09. (Stumbled across this compelling nugget of information while searching for something else on baseball-reference.com.) Hackman, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who pitched in the big leagues from 1999-2003, threw 17 shutout innings for the Uni-President Lions and won Games 4 and 7 in the ’08 Taiwan Series, the championship of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009, Hackman won Games 1, 4 and 7 of the series for the Lions. Hackman pitched in the CPBL for three years, 2010 being his last as a player. Drafted by Colorado in the sixth round in 1994, Hackman pitched in 149 big league games with three clubs and posted a 5.09 ERA. He also pitched in the independent Atlantic League, Mexico and Korea, with middling success. Yet he may still be a legend in the CPBL. P.S. A belated shout-out to umpire Lance Barksdale, the Brookhaven native who was behind the plate for Saturday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Barksdale missed just one call, according to umpscorecards.com, posting a 99 percent accuracy rate. The one miss: a called strike on a 3-2 pitch to Philadelphia’s Trea Turner in the third inning.
Happy 44th birthday to Eli Whiteside, the former All-America catcher at Delta State who played parts of six seasons in the major leagues. New Albany native Whiteside, drafted in the sixth round by Baltimore in 2001, played in 216 MLB games, batting .210 with 10 homers, and got two World Series rings despite never playing in the postseason. Whiteside, backing up Buster Posey, hit .238 for the 2010 San Francisco Giants and was on their Series roster but didn’t get in a game as they beat Texas 4-1. He also spent part of the 2012 season with the Giants but didn’t make the postseason roster for a club that won another Fall Classic. After he retired in 2015, Whiteside served for a time as a bullpen catcher for the Giants and a roving instructor. Whiteside’s first career homer was a grand slam for the Giants in 2009, and he also caught a Jonathan Sanchez no-hitter that year. He is one of nine Delta State alums to have made The Show. Others on that list: Barry Lyons, Stewart Cliburn and Jim Miles (the first in 1968).
Grae Kessinger, rookie infielder for Houston, watched the first eight games of the Astros’ postseason run from the dugout. The ex-Ole Miss star got quite a different view of the proceedings in the ninth inning Friday night, watching from first base as a pinch runner when Jose Altuve launched a momentum-shifting three-run homer that carried the Astros to a 5-4 win over Texas in a wild, wild Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Kessinger went in at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth and, with two runners on, made a leaping snag of a line drive for the first out. Two outs later Houston had swept the three games at Globe Life Field to go up 3-2 in the best-of-7. The defending champs can earn yet another trip to the World Series with a win in Game 6 at home on Sunday. The grandson of longtime big leaguer Don Kessinger — who never made a postseason appearance in 16 years in The Show — Grae was a midseason call-up by the Astros this year and played sparingly, batting .200 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Houston kept the versatile Kessinger on the postseason roster but didn’t get him into a game before Friday. It was one that won’t soon be forgotten, by Kessinger or anybody else who watched. Before Adolis Garcia’s dramatic three-run homer for Texas in the sixth inning and the benches-clearing kerfuffle he instigated in the eighth, former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe put the Rangers on the board with an opposite-field homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. It was Lowe’s second homer this postseason, and he is now 5-for-19 in the ALCS. … Meanwhile, in Arizona, things got a little wild also in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks, summoning a rally for the second straight day, scored three times in the eighth inning, handing ex-Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel the first blown save of his postseason career and beating Philadelphia 6-5. The series is square at 2-2. The big blow against Kimbrel (now 10-for-11 in saves) was a two-run, game-tying bomb by pinch-hitter Alek Thomas. A subsequent single and walk knocked Kimbrel out of the game, and the go-ahead hit came from Gabriel Moreno against Jose Alvarado. The Phillies struck out three times in the ninth. Of note: Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is slated to be behind the plate for Game 5 tonight at Chase Field, which will feature aces Zack Wheeler and Zac Gallen.
The Arizona Fall League has been described as an All-Star game every night, and Mississippi State product Rowdey Jordan is showing that he belongs among the highly rated prospects in the league. Jordan — who isn’t among the New York Mets’ Top 30 prospects — had a three-hit game for Glendale on Thursday night, raising his average to .275 in 11 games. The switch-hitting infielder/outfielder scored twice and picked up his sixth double, which is tied for the AFL lead. He has eight runs and three RBIs. Alabama native Jordan batted .323 with 10 homers for State’s national championship team in 2021 and was drafted, as a senior, in the 11th round by the Mets. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Jordan reached Double-A Binghamton late in 2022 and spent all of 2023 there, hitting .230 with 13 homers, 63 RBIs and 30 steals. P.S. Jordan’s teammate on the ’21 Bulldogs, College World Series star Will Bednar has had a rocky go in the AFL as he attempts to get his pro career on track. Bednar, the 14th overall pick in 2021 by San Francisco, has a 9.82 ERA in four appearances for Scottsdale. The right-hander, beset by injuries since he was drafted, has allowed four runs on three hits and seven walks in 3 2/3 innings. He does have six strikeouts. Once the Giants’ No. 4 prospect (by MLB Pipeline), Bednar is now listed 26th. He went 1-2, 4.22, in four games in rookie ball this season.
After eight years in the big leagues and 302 regular season appearances, Chris Stratton got in a postseason game for the first time on Wednesday night. It wasn’t an outing the former Mississippi State ace from Tupelo will remember fondly. Stratton yielded two hits and a walk and was charged with two runs in an inning of work during Texas’ 8-5 loss to visiting Houston in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. An effective reliever for the Rangers much of the season (3.41 ERA in 22 games after being acquired in a trade), Stratton was idle for the first seven playoff games. The 33-year-old right-hander entered Game 3 in the sixth inning with the Rangers down 5-2. He got the last two outs of that inning and the first of the seventh before a couple of singles chased him from the game. Will Smith relieved, walked the bases loaded and gave up a two-out, two-run knock to Yordan Alvarez. Stratton, 33, was the 20th overall pick by San Francisco in 2012 after winning SEC pitcher of the year honors — and the Ferriss Trophy — at MSU. He made the majors in 2016 and won 10 games (with a 5.09 ERA) for the Giants in 2018. Traded twice in 2019 and converted to the bullpen, he became a solid reliever, winning 30 games, registering 21 holds and notching 10 saves from 2019-22. He pitched well for St. Louis as a trade acquisition last year, and the Rangers added him to their pen at the deadline this season. The Rangers lead the ALCS 2-1 but the series appears far from over. Stratton may well get another shot, which he surely covets.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star now manning third base for Atlanta, and ex-Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, are among the finalists for Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. Both have previously been recognized for their hitting prowess, Riley winning a Silver Slugger in 2021 and Lowe taking one in 2022. Also making the top three at each position (in each league) were former Mississippi Braves Michael Harris II (center field), Dansby Swanson (shortstop) and Freddie Freeman (first base) and Biloxi Shuckers alum Mauricio Dubon (both second base and utility). Ke’Bryan Hayes, son of Hattiesburg native and ex-big leaguer Charlie Hayes, is among Riley’s competition at third base in the National League. Riley’s defensive metrics don’t compare well to Hayes’ or Ryan McMahon’s, but the ex-M-Braves star committed just 11 errors in 393 chances in 2023 and routinely made outstanding plays (see Game 2 of the NL Division Series). Gold Glove winners will be announced on Nov. 5. Of note: Bryson Stott, Philadelphia’s second baseman, is a finalist in his first year after moving from shortstop to second. Stott has credited Laurel native Bobby Dickerson with helping him make the transition. Dickerson, a former minor league player and longtime MLB coach, is in his second year as Phillies infield coach. He also has worked extensively with third baseman Alec Bohm and Bryce Harper, who learned to play first base at midseason. Bohm made several outstanding plays in the Phillies’ 10-0 win Tuesday in Game 2 of the NL Championship Series. “As much as we have a lot of really great hitters, games are won on defense,” Bohm told mlb.com.
Nathaniel Lowe, the ex-Mississippi State standout, stroked an RBI single to cap a four-run first inning for Texas in its 5-4 win against Houston in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Lowe was 3-for-8 with a home run this season against Astros starter Framber Valdez before Monday’s big hit — and 6-for-23 career vs. Valdez. The lefty-hitting Lowe went hitless the rest of the way Monday and is 1-for-8 in the series, which the Rangers lead 2-0 heading to Arlington for Game 3 on Wednesday. Lowe, a .273 career hitter, is 5-for-33 (.152) in his postseason career. … J.P. France, MSU alum, made his postseason debut for the Astros and worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, retiring Lowe on a fly ball for the third out of the fifth inning. Rookie France, who won 11 games as a starter for Houston this year, yielded one hit, a triple, which was erased in a double play to end the sixth. He departed after issuing a one-out walk in the seventh. … Umpire Andy Fletcher, an Ole Miss alum and Mississippi resident, worked the plate in the National League Championship Series opener, his first LCS assignment. He missed 12 ball-strike calls, according to Umpire Auditor, a relatively poor 90.9 percent correct call rate. There did not appear to be a lot of complaints during Philadelphia’s 5-3 victory. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale worked third base and is slated to go behind the plate in Game 5 at Arizona, should the best-of-7 series go that far. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Craig Kimbrel got the save for the Phillies, his third of this postseason and 10th in 10 chances (over 27 appearances) in his MLB career.
Anthony Alford wrapped up a strong season in the Korean Baseball Organization with a strong finish for one of the league’s best teams. Now the former Mississippi Mr. Baseball (and Mr. Football) from Petal and his KT Wiz teammates await the start of their postseason later this week. Alford, once a highly rated outfield prospect in the Toronto system, never really took off in the U.S. big leagues (.209 in 220 at-bats) but has been a standout the past two seasons in the KBO. Alford, 29, batted .289 with 15 home runs, 70 RBIs, 83 runs and 17 steals in 133 games this year for the Wiz, who finished 79-62-3, good for second in the league. Alford hit safely in eight of his last 10 games with 14 hits all told. The Wiz received a bye into the second round of the playoffs. … Former Southern Miss star and erstwhile big leaguer Kirk McCarty went 9-5 with a 3.39 ERA this season for SSG Landers, which also made the KBO playoffs. McCarty, in his first year in Korea, has not pitched since Sept. 23; it is unclear if he is injured. SSG Landers is the defending league champion.
If history — and coincidence — serve as a guide, a Mississippian will have an impact in tonight’s American League Championship Series opener. Houston, with Mississippi State alum J.P. France and ex-Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger on its roster, hosts Texas, with former State stars Nathaniel Lowe and Chris Stratton on board, in Game 1 at Minute Maid Park. Way back on Oct. 15, 1946, in Game 7 of the World Series, Pascagoula native Harry “The Hat” Walker famously drove in Enos Slaughter with the go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth inning, propelling St. Louis to a 4-3 win against Boston at Sportsman’s Park. The hit was Walker’s seventh and produced his sixth RBI of the Series. Shaw native and MSU alum Boo Ferriss started that game for the Red Sox and pitched well into the fifth inning. On Oct. 15, 2013, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn pitched 5 1/3 innings and got the win as St. Louis beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 and went up 3-1 in the National League Championship Series. It was Lynn’s second win in the NLCS, which the Cardinals won in six. On Oct. 15, 2019, former MSU standout Dakota Hudson, starting for St. Louis, had the dubious honor of allowing all seven runs in Washington’s 7-4 win that finished off a four-game sweep in the NLCS. Hudson retired only one of the eight batters he faced, yielding five hits and a walk. Three of the runs he was charged with were unearned because of an error. Just for the record, on Oct. 15, 2011, the Rangers beat Detroit 15-5 to clinch a second straight trip to the World Series. Amory native and State product Mitch Moreland was on that club, though he did not play in the Game 6 clincher. P.S. Former MSU pitcher Kendall Graveman did not make the Astros’ ALCS roster because of a shoulder problem. … Milwaukee has announced that MSU product Brandon Woodruff will have shoulder surgery and miss most if not all of the 2024 season. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Mike Mayers, an MLB vet who finished 2023 in the Chicago White Sox’s system, has become a minor league free agent. … Ex-MSU pitcher Chris Young was fired as the Cubs’ bullpen coach.