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.
Mitch Moreland was back in the starting lineup for Boston on Thursday and now he’s back in the World Series – for a third time – after the Red Sox dispatched Houston 4-1 in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. The Mississippi State alumnus, who had been limited by a hamstring injury since Game 2 of the ALDS, went 2-for-4 and was on base when Rafael Devers smacked his huge three-run homer off Justin Verlander in the sixth inning. Moreland is 4-for-9 this postseason and carries a .252 career postseason average – with three homers, 15 RBIs and 14 runs – over 44 games. He has appeared in the postseason in seven of his nine pro seasons, going back to his rookie year of 2010 with Texas, which lost in the World Series to San Francisco. Moreland went 6-for-13 in that Series, then 1-for-10 the next year as the Rangers fell to St. Louis. Boston has had Mississippi natives on several of its World Series teams – Boo Ferriss in 1946, George Scott and Dalton Jones in 1967, Oil Can Boyd in 1986 – but never on one of its championship teams. Amory native Moreland will be out to change that.
Boston didn’t generate much offense, to say the least, in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Saturday night. In fact, Mississippi State alum Mitch Moreland’s bases-loaded walk produced the only RBI the Red Sox got in a 7-2 loss to Houston at Fenway Park. Moreland, whose roster status was up in the air until Saturday morning because of a hamstring injury, got a pinch-hitting opportunity with one out in the fifth inning against Justin Verlander, against whom he was 11-for-38 career. After falling behind 0-2 in the count, Moreland worked a walk that cut the Astros’ lead to 2-1. A wild pitch then scored the Red Sox’s second run. Boston’s powerful lineup produced only three hits vs. Verlander and three relievers. Whether Moreland, a .245 hitter (.325 on-base average) with 15 homers this season, is healthy enough for a start at first base remains to be seen. He was lifted for a pinch runner after his walk. P.S. Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss alum, got a second pinch-hitting shot for the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series and popped out. He also popped out in Game 1. The Dodgers won Game 2 to even the series against Milwaukee. Dozier, who had two at-bats (and one hit) in the NLDS, scuffled at the plate down the stretch this season and may also be less than 100 percent.
There are four Mississippi natives still playing in this MLB season, one with each of the four teams still standing in the playoffs. Amory’s Mitch Moreland plays first base for Boston, which faces Houston and Moss Point product Tony Sipp, a relief specialist, in the American League Championship Series. Fulton’s Brian Dozier is a second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are taking on Milwaukee and Wheeler product Brandon Woodruff, a pitcher, in the National League Championship Series. Sipp, 35, is the senior member of the group and has followed the most serpentine route to this point. He signed with Cleveland as a 45th-round pick out of Clemson in 2004. He had been drafted twice previously (in higher rounds) – at Moss Point High in 2001 and a Florida juco in 2002. He was a two-way star at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC in 2003 but went undrafted. It took the lithe left-hander five years in the minors to reach the big leagues but once he did, he stuck. This is his fifth year with the Astros and was one of his best, as a 1.86 ERA will attest. He and Moreland have a little history. Moreland is 3-for-11 with two doubles vs. Sipp, who has fanned the lefty hitter six times. Moreland was a 17th-rounder out of Mississippi State in 2007 by Texas, made the big leagues three years later and has made a habit of showing up in the postseason. Moreland is in his second year with Boston, having re-signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in the off-season. He made his first All-Star Game in 2018 and finished with a .245 average and 15 homers. He and Dozier have a little history. They played American Legion ball together back in Tupelo. Dozier went to Southern Miss and was an eighth-round selection in 2009 by Minnesota. He reached the big leagues in 2012, took a brief detour back to the minors, then returned to stay in 2013. An All-Star with the Twins in 2015, the pending free agent was traded to the Dodgers in July. He slumped at season’s end, finishing with a .215 average and 21 homers. He and Woodruff have a little history – but only a little. Dozier is 1-for-2 with a homer off the right-hander, who is in just his second MLB campaign. Woodruff was drafted in the fifth round out of Wheeler High in 2011 but went to Mississippi State instead. After an unspectacular career with the Bulldogs, Milwaukee picked him in the 11th round in 2014. He blossomed quickly, becoming the Brewers’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2016 and making his big league debut the next summer. He put up a 3.61 ERA this season, working primarily in relief down the stretch.
It’s a tough assignment Mickey Callaway has drawn in the American League Championship Series. The former Ole Miss pitcher, now the Cleveland pitching coach, must plot a course through a Toronto lineup loaded with mashers. The Blue Jays’ 2-3-4 hitters, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, batted .367 with five homers and 15 RBIs in taking out favored Texas in the ALDS. The Indians’ rotation has been thinned by injuries. The bullpen features the remarkably versatile Andrew Miller and stout closer Cody Allen but its depth will be tested in this best-of-7 series. “We’ve got our hands full,” Callaway told mlb.com. “… We’re going to have to have some guys step up and step up in a big way.” In his four years in Cleveland, Callaway has done a nice job of prompting guys to do just that. His staffs have consistently ranked among the league’s ERA leaders; they were second with a 3.84 in 2016 and posted a 2.33 against Boston, another powerful offensive club, in their ALDS sweep. Callaway’s success as a pitching coach stands in contrast to his experience as an MLB pitcher. He posted a 6.27 ERA and a 4-11 record in 40 games with three different clubs. A seventh-round pick by Tampa Bay out of Ole Miss in 1996, the right-hander did manage to win 71 games in the minors and 32 more in Korea and China. He began his pro coaching career in the Indians’ system in 2010 at Class A Lake County, where his charges had a 3.72 ERA. He moved up the ladder the next couple of years and was hired as the Tribe’s big league coach when Terry Francona became manager prior to the 2013 season. Francona called Callaway a potential “star” when he gave him the job. Cleveland has had winning seasons every year since 2013 and is now taking aim on its first World Series appearance since 1997 and first championship since 1948. P.S. Petal’s Anthony Alford belted a reported 434-foot home run in an Arizona Fall League game on Thursday. Toronto prospect Alford, off to a 2-for-8 start for Mesa, hit .236 with nine homers and 18 steals in an injury-tinged season in high Class A this season.