Surely there are Oklahoma players and fans wondering this today: How can Ole Miss possibly top the brilliant pitching performance of Jack Dougherty, Mason Nichols and Josh Mallitz on Saturday, which followed the brilliant pitching performance of Dylan DeLucia on Thursday? How deep is that well? Heads up Sooners, ’cause here comes Hunter Elliott, who’ll start Game 2 of the College World Series with the national title in the Rebels’ grasp. Elliott, the freshman left-hander from Tupelo, has, in his last four starts, beaten LSU, Southern Miss and Arkansas and pitched masterfully in a no-decision against Miami. He is 5-3, 2.70 ERA, on the season. And he’ll have Rebel Nation roaring with every strike he throws in Omaha today. … The Houston Astros’ three-man no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Saturday marked the first time the Yanks had been no-hit since June 11, 2003, when Holmes Community College product Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner started and finished, respectively, a six-man no-no for the Astros at the old Yankee Stadium. … Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn’s return to the Chicago White Sox’s rotation has not exactly sparked a team resurgence (see previous post). Lynn, coming off knee surgery, is 1-1 with a 6.19 ERA in his three starts, and the team is 6-6 since his return. He was roughed up Saturday by Baltimore. In 16 innings, Lynn has yielded 20 hits and three walks. … Mississippi State alum Ethan Small, bidding for another shot in The Show, threw seven strong innings for Nashville on Saturday, leading Milwaukee’s Triple-A club to a 2-1 win against Gwinnett. Small (4-3, 3.18) allowed three hits and one run and punched out 10, getting rehabbing big leaguer Eddie Rosario twice. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren had the “unicorn slider” (see previous post) working Saturday, hurling 5 1/3 shutout innings in a win for Double-A Somerset in the Yankees’ chain. The right-hander allowed four hits and three walks with seven K’s. There is speculation, per MLB Trade Rumors, that the Yankees might use Warren as trade bait for a big league arm.
The state’s high school player of the year and a handful of Mississippi State players are among the 255 prospects taking part in this week’s MLB Draft Combine at Petco Park in San Diego. Jackson Academy star Dakota Jordan is one of two Mississippi high school players at the combine, joined by Emaarion Boyd from South Panola. MSU alums Logan Tanner, Landon Sims (recovering from spring Tommy John surgery), Kamren James and Jackson Fristoe are also there, along with Southern Miss’ Tyler Stuart and Northeast Mississippi Community College’s Colby Holcombe. Three Ole Miss players — Hayden Dunhurst, Derek Diamond and T.J. McCants — are on the list of invitees, but, of course, they have other business to attend to in Omaha. MLB Network will televise portions of the workouts today and Friday beginning at 11 a.m. The MLB draft starts on July 17. Sims, who missed most of the 2022 season after helping the Bulldogs win the national title in 2021, is pegged to go 35th overall to Kansas City by MLB Pipeline in its latest mock draft; the right-hander is the only state player projected to go on the first day. … Holcombe, a State commit, is one of the most intriguing players at the combine. The 6-foot-7, 245-pound right-hander from Alabama went 7-3 with a 2.60 ERA in 12 starts for Northeast, striking out 115 batters in 65 2/3 innings. P.S. MSU product Nathaniel Lowe was part of a history-making occurrence on Wednesday but not in a desirable way. Lowe, playing for Texas, was the first strikeout victim in both of the immaculate innings recorded by Houston pitchers. It’s a rare feat: nine pitches, all strikes, three strikeouts. The Astros’ Luis Garcia and Phil Maton turned the trick, reportedly the first time an MLB team has done it twice in the same game. To his credit, Lowe is batting .276 with eight homers for the Rangers.
Bobby Abreu is among the most accomplished former Jackson Generals players. He hit .291 for his big league career with a .395 on-base average, 288 homers and 400 steals, one of just six players all-time in the 250/400 club. He was a two-time All-Star, won a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove and a Home Run Derby. Abreu, a star right fielder for the 1994 Generals (Houston’s Double-A club), is on the BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot for the third time, and there is an interesting piece on mlb.com in which a panel of experts debate Abreu’s credentials. The consensus would seem to be that he won’t make the writers’ cut and likely would need to get in down the road via one of the veterans committees. Pitcher Billy Wagner, also still on the writers’ ballot, stands a much better chance of being the first ex-Gens star to be elected. … Jackson native and longtime big leaguer Chet Lemon is featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s weekly e-newsletter. The Card Corner item, which includes a nice story, is Lemon’s 1988 Fleer card. Lemon batted .273 over 16 years in MLB before an illness ended his career in 1991. He was a three-time All-Star, won a ring with the 1984 Detroit Tigers and still holds the American League record of 512 putouts, set in 1977 with Chicago. Lemon’s son Marcus played for the Mississippi Braves in 2011. … Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim is playing for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican (Roberto Clemente) League Championship Series, which is being televised on FS2. Game 4 is Wednesday night at 5 p.m. Crim, a Texas Rangers farmhand, batted .406 for Mayaguez this season after mashing 29 homers in the minors in 2021. … Mississippi State product Justin Foscue was named a Rangers Organization All-Star by milb.com after batting .275 with 17 homers at three levels in 2021. He also played well in the Arizona Fall League. But the second baseman’s big league path is currently blocked by Marcus Semien, who signed a huge free agent contract with Texas.
A strong 2021 season has paid off for Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star who reportedly has agreed to a 3-year, $24 million contract with the Chicago White Sox. Graveman put up a 1.77 ERA over 53 games last year split between Seattle and Houston. He allowed just two runs in 11 postseason innings for the Astros, who reached the World Series. Graveman, 31, converted from starter to reliever with the Mariners in 2020 after missing the 2019 season with Tommy John surgery. Drafted in the eighth round out of Starkville in 2013 by Toronto, he is a seven-year MLB vet. He’ll join a White Sox team that won the American League Central in 2021 and features Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn and Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet on its pitching staff along with All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson, a former East Central Community College standout. USA Today Sports Weekly rates Graveman 29th among the available free agents this off-season. Also in the top 106 are Mississippians Corey Dickerson (64) and Mitch Moreland (104).
Julio Lugo, the shortstop on the last Jackson Generals team in 1999, has died at 45 of an apparent heart attack, according to various reports. Lugo, a 12-year big leaguer, was one of the best shortstops to pass through Jackson in its 25-year Texas League era. He batted .319 with 10 homers, 42 RBIs, 22 steals and 77 runs in 116 games for the ’99 Generals, Houston’s Double-A team at the time. The Dominican Republic native debuted in the majors in 2000 with the Astros, won a World Series with Boston in 2007 and finished his MLB career with Atlanta in 2011. He hit .269 for his career.
The most intriguing name on the list of Mississippians headed for free agency this off-season belongs to one who is still playing. Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State star now pitching for Houston in the World Series, will hit the market after the series concludes. Having found great success since switching from starter to reliever in 2020, the 30-year-old right-hander ought to attract many suitors. He put up a 1.77 ERA in 53 games split between Seattle and the Astros this season and has a 1.64 in 11 postseason innings, including the final two of the Game 5 victory in Atlanta. He was on a 1-year, $1.25 million deal this season; he’ll command a lot more this off-season. Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson also should be an attractive free agent. The left-handed hitting outfielder batted .271 with six homers and 29 RBIs in an injury-shortened season split between Miami and Toronto. He played well down the stretch for the Blue Jays as they chased a playoff berth. The 2022 season will be McComb native Dickerson’s 10th in MLB; he made $17.5M over 2020-21. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of interest Mitch Moreland, Jarrod Dyson, Billy Hamilton and JaCoby Jones draw on the market. Amory native and MSU alum Moreland, 36, a 12-year vet with a good track record, hit just .227 with 10 homers in 81 games for Oakland and finished the season on the injured list with a wrist issue. Dyson, from McComb and Southwest Mississippi CC, is 37 and also a 12-year vet. He batted .207 with 10 stolen bases in 2021 between Kansas City and Toronto. He was used mainly as a defensive replacement and pinch runner. Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High standout, filled a similar role for the Chicago White Sox, batting .220 with nine steals, 23 runs and 11 RBIs. He also spent time on the IL. Jones, a former Mr. Baseball at Richton High, finished 2021 in the minors, having lost his roster spot with Detroit. The oft-injured 29-year-old outfielder hit .170 in 36 big league games in his sixth MLB campaign. A minor league deal with a spring invite might be the best he can hope for.
Barry Lyons, who touched all the bases on his path to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, an honor that was announced Friday. Lyons was born in Biloxi, played high school ball there, became an All-America catcher at Delta State and starred for the 1985 Jackson Mets, who won the Texas League championship. He made his big league debut with the New York Mets in 1986, though he did not have a postseason appearance for the World Series champs. Lyons is still heavily involved in baseball on the Coast.
David Dellucci, an All-America outfielder at Ole Miss and an SEC batting champion who also earned the state Hall of Fame nod. Dellucci played 13 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks.
Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who delivered a clutch hit (again) for Atlanta, driving in the first run with a third-inning double in the 2-0 win Friday night against Houston in Game 3 of the World Series. “Hunting windows,” as he likes to say, Riley has produced seven RBIs this postseason.
Ian Anderson, the ex-Mississippi Braves ace who threw five no-hit innings at the Astros in Game 3. Anderson, who had a hand in a no-no with the M-Braves in 2019, has a 1.26 career postseason ERA, tied with Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee for the second-best by any pitcher over his first eight starts.
Kendall Graveman, the ex-Mississippi State standout and Astros reliever who had not allowed a home run to a right-handed batter all year before the Braves’ Travis d’Arnaud took him deep on Friday night. Graveman has yielded just two runs in nine postseason innings for the Astros after posting a 3.13 ERA during the season.
Desmond Jennings, the former Itawamba CC two-sport star who turns 35 today. Jennings played seven years in the big leagues with Tampa Bay, batting .245 with 55 homers and 95 stolen bases.
The Boston Red Sox, cursed for so many years, won their second World Series in a four-year span on this date in 2007, and the four-game sweep ended with a faceoff between two Mississippi college alums. Mississippi State product Jonathan Papelbon struck out ex-Ole Miss star Seth Smith for the final out of the Red Sox’s 4-3 win against Colorado in Game 4 at Coors Field. Though both would play on for many more years, that moment marked the last World Series appearance for either. Smith, a Jackson native and Hillcrest Christian grad, was a rookie in 2007, having gotten just eight at-bats (five hits) during the regular season. The lefty-hitting outfielder retired after the 2017 season with a .261 career average and 126 homers. Papelbon was in his third MLB campaign in 2007; he notched 37 saves that season and saved the last three games of the ’07 Series. He finished his career in 2016 with 368 saves, currently 10th on the all-time list. Papelbon and Smith, who had faced each other during their college days, met just twice more in the majors after the ’07 moment. Papelbon got Smith in a 2010 Red Sox-Rockies game, and Smith doubled off Papelbon in a 2014 San Diego-Philadelphia contest. A footnote: Papelbon’s glove from the ’07 Series went to the National Baseball Hall of Fame; the ball from the final out, strangely enough, was chewed up by Papelbon’s dog. P.S. Ex-MSU standout Kendall Graveman pitched a clean ninth inning Wednesday night for Houston in his first career World Series appearance. The last few years have been quite a roller-coaster for Graveman. He missed part of 2018 (with Oakland) and all of 2019 (with the Chicago Cubs) after Tommy John surgery, then missed time in 2020 (with Seattle) because of complications from a benign bone tumor in his neck. He moved from starter to the bullpen after that and moved from Seattle to Houston in a jolting trade in July.
It is guaranteed that a Mississippi product will get a ring after the 2021 World Series. Either former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley or Mississippi State alumnus Kendall Graveman will be celebrating when the series ends. “This is why you play the game …,” Houston reliever Graveman said in an MLB Network interview. “I’m ultimately honored and blessed to be in this position, to play the game at the highest level but also on the biggest stage in baseball.” Atlanta third baseman Riley said in an interview with an Atlanta TV station that he was happy to see longtime Braves star Freddie Freeman and manager Brian Snitker make the Series. “I’ve been very blessed to be along for the ride,” said Riley, who made some pretty strong contributions to the trip. This October marks the 10th anniversary of a World Series that also featured Mississippians on opposing sides, and fans can only hope this year’s Fall Classic produces similar drama. St. Louis beat Texas in seven games in the 2011 Series, with Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn earning a ring and ex-MSU standout Mitch Moreland coming up empty. That Series is best remembered for Albert Pujols’ three-homer game, a Cardinals bullpen mix-up in Game 5 and David Freese’s walk-off homer in Game 6 that capped an incredible St. Louis comeback. Lynn and Moreland had their moments. Lynn, a rookie reliever, pitched in five of the games, getting a win in Game 3 with 2 1/3 strong innings and pitching a clean eighth in Game 7, a 6-2 victory. Moreland, in his second MLB season and second Series, was just 1-for-10 but homered in Game 5, a 4-2 Texas win that put the Rangers up 3-2 in the series. … It was 20 years ago that Arizona stunned the New York Yankees in another seven-game classic, winning on Luis Gonzalez’s walk-off hit against Mariano Rivera. Former Ole Miss star David Dellucci was a reserve outfielder on that Diamondbacks team, which had been largely constructed by former State star Buck Showalter, the first manager of the 1998 expansion team. He was fired after the 2000 season, reportedly because of a dispute with ownership. “I would think that this is killing him,” an anonymous source told the New York Times after the Series. … Twenty-five years ago, the Yankees beat the Braves in six games, famously overcoming a 2-0 deficit. Hattiesburg native and Forrest County AHS product Charlie Hayes, New York’s third baseman, caught a foul pop for the final out that year. … Thirty years ago, Minnesota beat Atlanta in a classic seven-game series that featured two worst-to-first clubs. Former Jackson State standout Marvin Freeman was a reliever for the Braves back then, and five — count ’em, five — Jackson Mets alums pitched for the Twins that season: Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, Terry Leach, David West and Tom Edens. … The 1961 Yankees, featuring home run king Roger Maris, won the Fall Classic that year over Cincinnati. Silver City native Jack Reed appeared in three games for the Yanks as a defensive replacement, which had been his primary role that season. He didn’t get an at-bat — but did get a ring. Corinth’s Don Blasingame batted .143 in the five games as the Reds’ leadoff batter. … Eighty years ago, in the 1941 Series made famous by Mickey Owen’s dropped third strike, Morton native Atley Donald helped the Yankees beat Brooklyn in five games. Donald was the starter in Game 4, yielding four runs in four innings, but was bailed out when Owen’s misplay in the ninth extended the game and fueled New York’s 7-4 comeback.
Since the Mississippi Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005, the Double-A club has funneled literally scores of players to Atlanta, including the entire infield and the top three starting pitchers on the 2021 team that has reached the World Series for the first time in 22 years. But the Braves franchise has a largely forgotten history in Mississippi that goes back 70-plus years. When Atlanta announced it was moving its Double-A team from South Carolina to Pearl, it was actually reconnecting with the Magnolia State. From 1946-50, when the Braves called Boston home, they had a farm team in Jackson, the Senators, who played at League Park near where the Fairgrounds stands now. Those were good teams, posting winning records in four of the five seasons and finishing first in the Southeastern League standings in 1947. “It was a pretty good brand of ball,” former Senators player Banks McDowell said in a 2001 interview. “It was Class B, and baseball people would tell us later that it was comparable to Double-A today.” Minor league affiliation worked a little differently in that era; research indicates only one player from those Senators teams made the big leagues. Vern Bickford pitched in Jackson in 1946 and pitched parts of seven seasons in the majors. He was on the Braves’ 1948 World Series team and threw a no-hitter in 1950. The Braves pulled out of Jackson in 1951, and Detroit came in two years later. League Park was destroyed by a tornado in August of ’53. The team moved its games elsewhere and never returned. Jackson got a Double-A team in 1975, when the Mets moved into then-new Smith-Wills Stadium. New York’s 1986 World Series championship club featured numerous former Jackson Mets, among them Darryl Strawberry, Lenny Dykstra, Mookie Wilson, Roger McDowell and Jesse Orosco. After the Mets departed in 1990, Houston arrived with the Generals and from 1991-99 produced a bevy of big leaguers, many of whom fueled the Astros’ run of success in the National League Central in the late ’90s. When the Astros finally made the World Series for the first time in 2005, two former Generals — Lance Berkman and Raul Chavez — were still around. The Astros still have some fans in the metro area, and the M-Braves recognized that heritage with tribute nights at Trustmark Park in 2019 and again this summer.