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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Houston Astros, who are celebrating their 60th anniversary this season, gave a nod to their first World Series team by having a star pitcher from that club, Mississippi native Roy Oswalt, throw out the ceremonial first pitch before Thursday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Oswalt, the ex-Holmes Community College standout from Weir, was a 20-game winner for the 2005 Astros, who won the National League pennant — Oswalt won the clincher vs. St. Louis — before falling to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series. That it took 43 years for Houston to make that first Fall Classic seems hard to fathom now. Up 2-0 on the New York Yankees in the current ALCS, the Astros are on the cusp of a fourth World Series appearance since 2017, when they won their first and only championship (under controversial circumstances). They’ve been in the ALCS six straight years. Yet this franchise had an inglorious start. Houston’s first team, the expansion Colt .45s, were managed by Ellisville native and former big leaguer Harry Craft. They went 64-96 in ’62. Craft was dismissed late in the 1964 season with a 191-280 record. The team became the Astros in 1965, moving into the Astrodome, and finally posted a winning season in 1972. Pascagoula native Harry Walker was the manager of that team — until he was fired in August despite having a winning record. In 1980, the Astros finally made the playoffs for the first time. Houston’s Double-A team, the Jackson Generals, took up residence at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1991 and helped fuel the Astros teams that won four NL Central titles in a five-year stretch (1997-2001) before finally reaching the World Series in 2005. They didn’t make the postseason again for 10 years, going through a rough rebuilding process that is now bearing fruit year after year. P.S. On this date in 1986, former Jackson Mets star Lenny Dykstra led off Game 3 of the World Series at Fenway Park with a home run off Meridian native Oil Can Boyd. The New York Mets, down 0-2 in the Series, won the game 7-1 over Boston and ultimately won the title in seven games. Boyd allowed six runs in seven innings in his only Series appearance.
Eight years after making a trip to the College World Series with Mississippi State, Kendall Graveman is going to THE World Series with the Houston Astros. Graveman worked four scoreless innings over three appearances for the Astros, who finished off Boston 5-0 Friday in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. It was a 2-0 game when Graveman wriggled out of a jam in the seventh inning with the help of a great throw by catcher Martin Maldonado. Graveman was disappointed when Seattle traded him to Houston back in July, but he no doubt feels better about the move today. … For the Red Sox, who scored just three total runs in Games 4, 5 and 6, ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe had a forgettable series. He was 1-for-16 with eight strikeouts and was lifted for a pinch hitter in what would have been his final at-bat. … This will be Houston’s fourth trip to the Fall Classic; the first came in 2005, when Mississippi native Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Raul Chavez helped the club win the National League pennant. Houston’s Double-A team played in Jackson at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. … The Astros’ hitting coach is Troy Snitker, son of Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who was the first Mississippi Braves manager in 2005. The younger Snitker played briefly in Atlanta’s minor league system but did not make it to Pearl. … The elder Snitker and the Braves will lean on ex-M-Braves pitcher Ian Anderson in tonight’s Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Only 23 years old, Anderson has made six postseason starts over two years and is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA. In 2018-19 in Mississippi, he was 9-6, 2.62. In 2019, he started a combo no-hitter at Trustmark Park while wearing a Jackson Generals uniform on a special tribute night. … Anderson is one of several M-Braves alumni on the Atlanta roster. In addition, reserve infielder Orlando Arcia played for Biloxi on his route to the big leagues in Milwaukee’s system. … The Los Angeles Dodgers also have an M-Braves alum on their club: Reliever Evan Phillips pitched in Pearl in 2016 and ’17 on his circuitous journey to the NLCS. The Dodgers claimed Phillips off waivers from Tampa Bay in mid-August; he was previously released by Baltimore. He has thrown three scoreless innings against the Braves. … Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is scheduled to work behind home plate tonight at Truist Park. P.S. Kudos to Hattiesburg native Robert Carson and Biloxi native Jacob Lindgren, who were part of championship teams in the top two independent leagues. Carson pitched for Atlantic League champ Lexington and Lindgren for American Association winner Kansas City. Both Carson and Lindgren, an MSU alum, previously pitched in the big leagues.
The frustration the Boston Red Sox experienced on Wednesday night can be captured in one at-bat in the bottom of the fifth inning. Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe was up with the Red Sox down 1-0, two runners on, no outs. The Crystal Springs native, who had 31 homers and 96 RBIs this season, got ahead in the count 2-0. Was it his time? No. Houston starter Framber Valdez threw his signature sinker, and Renfroe rolled into a 6-4-3 double play. The next batter, Alex Verdugo, also bounced out. Boston got nothing, and the Astros then blew up for five runs in the sixth en route to a 9-1 victory that puts them ahead 3-2 in the American League Championship Series that heads back to Houston. Valdez was brilliant over eight innings, limiting the Red Sox to three hits. The Sox had just five hits in a 9-2 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday. Several of Boston’s big bats have gone cold. Kyle Schwarber is batting .143 in the series, Xander Bogaerts .227, Verdugo .235. Renfroe’s slump has been particularly pronounced. He is 1-for-14 (.071) with one RBI, that coming in Game 1. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and two GIDPs in Game 5. Surely, he is frustrated, as are his teammates, but he is not down, said DH J.D. Martinez. “I think Hunter’s been even-keeled all year,” he said in a nesn.com story. “I don’t see him down at all. You know, he is still going up there. He puts up tough at-bats.” Backs to the wall, the Red Sox need some of those tough at-bats to produce hits and runs. P.S. Unsung hero in Atlanta’s crucial Game 4 win in the National League Championship Series: A.J. Minter. The former Mississippi Braves left-hander (2016-17) pitched two near-perfect innings in middle relief in the Braves’ 9-2 win against Los Angeles. Minter pitched the sixth and seventh innings when the lead was a precarious 5-2 and threw 16 of 22 pitches for strikes. He yielded just one hit. With ace Max Fried, another ex-M-Braves standout, starting tonight in Game 5, the Braves, up 3-1, have to feel they’re in pretty good shape.
Game 4 may have been a pivotal one in the American League Championship Series, and Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman played a pivotal role. Graveman threw two scoreless innings — the seventh and eighth — and got the win as Houston rallied past Boston 9-2 Tuesday night at Fenway Park to square the series at 2-2. Graveman was one of five Astros relievers who worked 7 2/3 shutout innings after starter Zack Greinke was pulled in the second inning. The two-inning stint was the longest for Graveman since he joined the Astros in a late July trade with Seattle. “I was mentally preparing myself to go three, honestly,” he told mlb.com. The Astros went to closer Ryan Pressly in the ninth after scoring seven runs in the top of the inning. Appearing in the postseason for the first time in his seven years in MLB, Graveman has been good: three scoreless innings in the ALCS and a 1.50 ERA in five appearances overall. The right-hander was a closer with Seattle (0.82 ERA, 4-0, 10 saves) but saw his role change to set-up man in Houston. He scuffled at times, posting a 3.13 ERA with three blown saves and seven holds in 23 games. He looked to be in top form on Tuesday. Strangely enough, the only batter to reach against Graveman was Hunter Renfroe, his former teammate at MSU, who drew a two-out walk in the eighth. It was just the second time they had faced each other in the big leagues; Graveman struck out Renfroe in that previous encounter. Renfroe, who had a monster season for the Red Sox, has had a quiet series (1-for-11 with four walks).
You never know what postseason moments will stick with you as the years roll along. For fans of the Atlanta Braves and devoted followers of Mississippi baseball, there’s a strong chance this one will: Former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley’s tie-breaking home run in the ninth inning of Monday night’s National League Championship Series opener. The 448-foot blast, on a 1-2 pitch, with actual fans in the stands, propelled the Braves to a 5-1 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers. Riley can rake: He hit 18 homers as a rookie in 2019, including one in his first game, and added eight more this season. He has had some well-documented struggles, including in this postseason and even in Monday’s game, but Atlanta manager Brian Snitker has stuck with him as the regular third baseman. Riley’s bomb, which sent the Braves’ dugout into a frenzy, had to evoke a feeling of tremendous gratification for all involved. As teammate Freddie Freeman told mlb.com: “For him to have that moment, the biggest home run of his life, I’m just so happy for him.” … BTW: Former Mississippi Braves star Max Fried and the Dodgers’ Walker Buehler put on a good show as the opposing starters in Game 1 at Arlington, Texas, but tonight’s matchup might be even better: M-Braves alum Ian Anderson against Clayton Kershaw. … A trivia question: Who is the all-time leader in MLB wins by a former M-Braves pitcher? Answer: Charlie Morton, with 93. Morton, who pitched for the M-Braves in 2007, also has six postseason wins, including Monday’s Game 2 of the American League Championship Series for Tampa Bay against Houston. The 36-year-old right-hander won a ring with Houston in 2017, earning the victory in Game 7 of the World Series. (The all-time wins leader among ex-Jackson Mets is Mike Scott with 124 and among ex-Jackson Generals is Freddy Garcia with 156.) … Hunter Renfroe, who was mic’d up for the TBS broadcast of ALCS Game 1, might not be tempted to do it again. The Mississippi State product wore the dreaded golden sombrero after striking out four times and leaving four runners on base in the Rays’ 2-1 win. He was not in the lineup for Game 2 against a right-handed starter. … On this date in 1974, in Game 2 of the World Series, Belzoni native Herb Washington, representing the tying run for Oakland in the top of the ninth, got picked off first base by Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The A’s lose the game but win the series in five. “Designated runner” Washington, a world-class sprinter who never batted in 105 big league games, made two other appearances in the ’74 Series but did not attempt a steal. He stole 29 bases in the 1974 season but just two more in ’75 before he was released.