Before former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman took ex-Biloxi Shuckers ace Josh Hader deep for the series-clinching home run, there was a cool all-Mississippi faceoff in Tuesday’s National League Division Series game at Truist Park. Sixth inning. Score tied. Runners first and third. Two outs. Milwaukee summoned Wheeler’s Brandon Woodruff, ordinarily a starter, from the bullpen to face DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley, Atlanta’s cleanup batter. Riley had blasted a 428-foot homer off Woodruff in the Braves’ Game 2 victory, adding to the anticipation of this clash. Woodruff won Tuesday’s battle; on the first pitch, a 97-mph fastball, Riley grounded out to the third baseman. But Riley and the Braves won the war, 5-4 on Freeman’s majestic eighth-inning bomb, and advanced to the NLCS for the second straight year. Woodruff and the Brewers have been in the playoffs four straight years but only once reached the NLCS. Riley went 5-for-15 in the NLDS with a walk, an RBI and three runs and now gets to play some more. … The Chicago White Sox, who had four Mississippi products on their roster, saw their season come to a disappointing end, getting crushed by Houston 10-1 in the decisive Game 4 of their American League Division Series. Tim Anderson, the East Central Community College alum, went 7-for-19 in the series but was 0-for-4 Tuesday. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn got KO’d in his Game 2 start, yielding five runs in 3 2/3 innings. Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet did not allow an earned run in three relief appearances but did allow four of four inherited runners to score, including two in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s game that put the Astros up 5-1. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton never got off the bench in what likely was his last time in a White Sox uniform. … For Houston, ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman threw a scoreless eighth inning but did manage to add to the bad blood between the teams when he plunked Jose Abreu with a pitch. It looked intentional. ChiSox manager Tony LaRussa said it clearly was. Astros manager Dusty Baker said it wasn’t. The matter will be revisited next season, count on that. Meanwhile, Graveman gets to see former MSU teammate Hunter Renfroe in the ALCS, where the Astros will play Boston.
It’s just a footnote — but one of significant local interest — on today’s Atlanta-Milwaukee National League Division Series opener. The clubs, meeting for the first time in the postseason, have a rivalry on the Double-A level, where the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers reside. The expected pitching matchups for the first three games feature a former M-Brave vs. a former Shucker: Charlie Morton-Corbin Burnes, Max Fried-Brandon Woodruff and Ian Anderson-Freddy Peralta. No weak links there. Both bullpens are also populated with several pitchers who toiled in the Magnolia State en route to the big leagues, most notably Brewers closer Josh Hader, a nasty left-hander. The Brewers are without setup man (and Shuckers alum) Devin Williams, who broke his hand punching a wall last month after the Brewers clinched the NL Central. Atlanta’s dynamic infield is homegrown: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley all passed through Pearl. By contrast, Milwaukee’s lineup was built with players from other organizations. … There is speculation that catcher Shea Langeliers, a 2021 M-Braves star and Atlanta’s minor league player of the year, could make the NLDS roster. He made the trip to Milwaukee. … The Braves and Brewers split six regular season games in 2021. One stands out. On July 31, the Braves beat Woodruff — with the aid of a bad call. It was 1-1 in the sixth inning at Truist Park when Swanson took an apparent third strike for the second out. Swanson dropped his head and started to walk to the dugout. But the pitch was called a ball. So, of course, Swanson hit the next pitch out of the park for a 3-1 lead, ending Woodruff’s night. The big right-hander glared at home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor as he left the field. … Looking ahead to Game 2, when Mississippi prep products Riley and Woodruff will face off: DeSoto Central alum Riley is 1-for-8 with a walk and two strikeouts against Wheeler High alum Woodruff. … The Braves won a World Series in 1957 when the franchise was located in Milwaukee. The Brewers have been to the Fall Classic once, as an American League team in 1982, falling to St. Louis.
He didn’t join the exclusive club of major leaguers who have homered in their first career at-bat, but Nick Fortes did do something special on Saturday. The former Ole Miss standout hit a home run in his second career AB — he singled in his first — for Miami in a 6-3 loss to Pittsburgh. Fortes, a catcher called up on Friday, took former Mississippi Braves right-hander Bryse Wilson deep in the fifth inning, a 413-foot shot. “I had goosebumps and chills down my spine,” said Fortes, who had a gaggle of family and friends watching at loanDepot park. Fortes began this season, his third in pro ball, at Pensacola in the Double-A South before moving to Triple-A Jacksonville. He had seven homers in 330 at-bats for those two clubs. He became one of eight Marlins to homer in his first game. Ex-Mississippi State star Will Clark and Louisville native Marcus Thames are the only Mississippians to homer in their first career at-bat. P.S. Milwaukee, with Biloxi Shuckers alums Devin Williams and Josh Hader getting the win and the save, clinched a playoff berth on Saturday by beating the Chicago Cubs. For the record, George County High product Justin Steele, the Cubs’ starter, got his first career hit (in nine ABs). Steele allowed two runs in four innings and wasn’t part of the decision. The rookie left-hander is 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA in his seven starts this season.
In his first game since becoming a father, Brent Rooker doubled and homered to help Minnesota cool off Toronto in a key American League game on Friday night. Former Mississippi State standout Rooker came off the paternity list to hit his eighth homer of the year and drive in two runs as the last-place Twins beat the Blue Jays 7-3 and knocked them back to third in the AL wild card race. Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star, had two hits and scored a run for the Blue Jays. … Elsewhere in the playoff chase: MSU product Hunter Renfroe drove in three runs and scored another as AL wild card leader Boston whipped Baltimore 7-1. East Central CC alumnus Tim Anderson went 1-for-3 and scored twice as AL Central leader Chicago thumped Texas 8-0. Former State star Kendall Graveman blew a save — just his third of the season — in the eighth inning, but AL West leader Houston rallied to beat Arizona 4-3 in 10 innings. Former Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Brett Phillips hit a walk-off homer — and celebrated as you might expect only him to do — to give AL East leader Tampa Bay a 7-4 win vs. Detroit. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss star Nick Fortes was called up by Miami on Friday and likely will make his MLB debut today against Pittsburgh. The 24-year-old catcher, a fourth-round pick in 2018, hit .245 with seven homers and 44 RBIs at the Double-A and Triple-A levels this season. The Marlins reportedly want to give him a closer look as they plan for next season. Fortes will be the fifth Mississippian (native or school alum) to debut in 2021 and the 29th to make a big league appearance this season.
The second no-hitter in Milwaukee Brewers history was delivered by a pair of pitchers who cut their teeth on the Coast. Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader, who stifled Cleveland 3-0 on Saturday, are among the large contingent of Brewers pitchers who came up through their system, including a stop at Double-A Biloxi. Shuckers fans saw Hader blow away hitters at MGM Park in 2015 and ’16 on his way to becoming one of the most feared closers in the big leagues. Burnes played for Biloxi in 2017 and is now an integral part of one of the best rotations in MLB, along with fellow Shuckers alums Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser. Supporting Hader in the bullpen are ex-Shuckers Devin Williams and Brent Suter. Milwaukee pitchers lead all of baseball in strikeouts, rank second in batting average against and third in ERA. More important, they rank fourth in wins with 88, which ranks them first in the National League Central and bound for the postseason. Burnes (10-4, 2.25 ERA) and Hader (31 saves) combined for 16 strikeouts against the Indians. Harrison Central High alum Bobby Bradley punched out three times in his three at-bats. P.S. Whatever happened to … Tim Dillard, the former Itawamba Community College standout, is now working as a TV analyst for the Brewers, the organization with which he spent most of his long playing career. The colorful Dillard, who has quite the Twitter following, formally retired from pitching in February, ending a career that began in 2003 and concluded with a stint with the independent Milwaukee Milkmen in 2020. A Saltillo High alum – and son of former big leaguer and Ole Miss alum Steve Dillard – Dillard appeared in over 500 minor league games and 73 MLB contests, the last with the Brewers in 2012. In 2019, at age 35, he went 9-9 with a 4.75 ERA at Triple-A Nashville in Milwaukee’s system. He signed a minor league deal with Texas this past off-season but was released in February.
Several atta-boys are in order: Thomas Dillard, the ex-Ole Miss star from Oxford, hit his first Double-A home run on Saturday in Biloxi’s loss to the Mississippi Braves at MGM Park. Dillard is batting .296 in 16 games since Milwaukee promoted him from A-ball, where he had blasted 16 homers. … Mississippi State product Konnor Pilkington posted his third win in his fifth start for Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. Pascagoula native Pilkington was traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Indians for big league infielder Carlos Hernandez in July. The big left-hander is 7-2 with a 2.72 ERA overall in his third pro season. He has a 1.17 ERA for Akron. … Jacob Waguespack, an Ole Miss alum, improved to 7-2 with a 2.66 ERA for Toronto’s Triple-A Buffalo club. The onetime big leaguer is no longer on the 40-man roster but might rate another shot. … Former MSU standout Ben Bracewell notched his third save for Triple-A Las Vegas in the Oakland chain. The 30-year-old minor league vet is 5-1 with a 3.91 ERA as a reliever. … MSU product Hunter Stovall, who turns 25 today, had a 21-game hit streak stopped on Friday. He is batting .314 with six homers, 40 RBIs and 24 steals for High-A Spokane in Colorado’s system. He’s due for a promotion. … Will Bednar, the 2021 College World Series MVP for State, made a second straight scoreless appearance for San Francisco’s Arizona Complex League team. The Giants’ first-round pick has three punchouts in two innings of work. … On a sour note, ex-Ole Miss standout David Parkinson fell to 1-11 after yielding six runs in two innings for Philadelphia’s Triple-A Lehigh Valley club. Parkinson, who has a career 3.86 ERA, is at 7.93 in 2021.
The Mississippi Braves have risen to the best record in the Double-A South by minding their P’s: pitching and power. On a lazy Sunday afternoon at Trustmark Park in Pearl, they didn’t get enough of either. Biloxi bludgeoned the M-Braves 11-3, snapping an eight-game winning streak. The M-Braves lead the league in ERA (3.66) and rank second in home runs (117). On Sunday, the Shuckers, the league’s worst team by record, pounded out 16 hits – two by Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard, his first in Double-A – and drew six walks against five M-Braves pitchers. Starter Freddy Tarnok and Hayden Deal, first out of the bullpen, yielded four runs each. Braden Shewmake hit the M-Braves’ lone homer, his ninth, a first-inning solo shot that landed on the roof of the Farm Bureau Grill beyond right field. … Austin Riley hit his 25th home run in Atlanta’s 6-5 victory over Washington on Sunday, but the ex-DeSoto Central High star’s bigger contribution was the play he made to end the game. Riley dove and speared a hot shot down the third-base line, with runners at first and second, and threw out Carter Kieboom at first base. Riley’s glove rates some love. … Corey Dickerson may prove to be a valuable trade acquisition for Toronto, still scrapping in the wild card battle. The Meridian Community College alum hit his first homer for the Blue Jays in a win on Sunday and is 10-for-33 with five RBIs and five runs in 12 games for the team. He hit .260 with two homers for Miami before the trade. … San Francisco maintained the best record (76-42) in the big leagues with a 5-2 win against Colorado on Sunday, with two former M-Braves playing major roles. Alex Wood worked 6 2/3 innings to notch his 10th win and Tommy La Stella went 3-for-4 with two RBIs, boosting his August average to .300 coming off a three-month stay on the injured list. … Tough luck continues to hound former Petal High star Anthony Alford. After battling his way back to the majors from a demotion to Triple-A, the 27-year-old outfielder went on the IL on Sunday with a back strain. He is 4-for-17 since Pittsburgh brought him back to The Show. Alford’s 2020 season was curtailed by a fractured elbow. He suffered myriad injuries while in Toronto’s system from 2012-19.
At Wrigley Field today, Justin Steele, the former George County High star, makes his first major league start for Chicago against Milwaukee. At Trustmark Park in Pearl tonight, Thomas Dillard, the ex-Ole Miss standout, is expected to make his Double-A debut for Biloxi when the Shuckers play the Mississippi Braves. Steele, a 26-year-old left-hander from Lucedale, debuted with the Cubs earlier this season, posting a 2.03 ERA over 11 relief appearances. After he was shut down by an injury, the Cubs decided to make him a starter again. He made five starts for Triple-A Iowa, going 2-0 with a 0.87 ERA. He also drove in two runs in his last game for the I-Cubs. So, he appears to be ready for the new challenge. Dillard, a catcher/first baseman from Greenwood in his second pro season, smacked 16 homers for Low-A Wisconsin in Milwaukee’s system, earning the promotion to Double-A. Known for his power, the switch-hitting Dillard has 23 homers in 132 minor league games. He joins a Shuckers team that stunned the M-Braves by beating them six straight the last time they played in Pearl. P.S. Tanner Allen, a fourth-round pick this summer out of Mississippi State, is still seeking his first hit for Low-A Jupiter in the Miami chain. The SEC player of the year and Ferriss Trophy winner is 0-for-17 for the Hammerheads. He was 1-for-9 in the Florida Complex League to begin his pro career. … Reed Trimble, the 65th overall pick in July out of Southern Miss, is 3-for-9 in three games for Baltimore’s FCL club.
Shohei Ohtani, the amazing double-duty All-Star, got the win and Raisel Iglesias the save in the Los Angeles Angels’ 5-3 victory against Boston on Tuesday night. Former Ole Miss star Mike Mayers was the “bridge guy,” pitching the eighth inning, between Ohtani and Iglesias. Mayers was credited with a hold, that somewhat obscure statistic that gives middle relievers something to, er, hold on to. A hold is awarded to a reliever who enters in “a save situation and maintains his team’s lead for the next relief pitcher, while recording at least one out.” Mayers’ scoreless inning of work gives the right-hander 11 holds on the year; the MLB lead is 17. He has a 4.17 ERA and two saves in 41 appearances. Drew Pomeranz, another UM product, fills a similar role to Mayers’ for San Diego. The big lefty notched his eighth hold on Tuesday, pitching a scoreless eighth in the Padres’ 7-4 win over Washington. Pomeranz, who recently came off the injured list, has a 1.59 ERA in 18 games. Chris Stratton, the ex-Mississippi State standout from Tupelo and another middle relief specialist, pitched a scoreless seventh inning in Pittsburgh’s 2-1 win against Atlanta. But the score was tied when Stratton worked – so, no hold. He has four on the year, along with a 2.96 ERA and a save in 35 appearances. P.S. If there was a bright spot in the Braves’ second straight lackluster performance against the lowly Pirates, it was the hitting of Orlando Arcia. Arcia, the second Biloxi Shuckers alum (after Jed Bradley) to play for Atlanta, went 2-for-3 and homered for the Braves’ lone run. He is 4-for-11 with two RBIs, two runs and a steal in three games since being called up from Triple-A Gwinnett, where he was batting .303 with 13 homers. He was Milwaukee’s starting shortstop the previous five years. … To the long list of great catches by Billy Hamilton, make room for the one he made Tuesday. The Taylorsville High product, playing center field in the ninth inning for the Chicago White Sox, ran full speed and laid out for the acrobatic snag, then slid across the rain-soaked warning track to complete the play. “I think that’s the top one, to be honest with you,” Hamilton said in an mlb.com story.
Former Mississippi State star Ethan Small, having proved himself in Double-A (see previous post), will get the challenge of the next level tonight when he starts for Triple-A Nashville against visiting Charlotte. Milwaukee’s 2019 first-round pick went 2-2 with a 1.97 ERA for the Biloxi Shuckers with 67 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings. Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “(H)e’s kind of forced our hand to where he’s just dominated the last several outings. It made the decision really easy to get him to Triple-A and let him continue to develop there.” Small, a left-hander, is the top-rated pitching prospect in the Brewers’ organization and their No. 4 overall, per MLB Pipeline. P.S. Former Mississippi prep stars Demarcus Evans and Garrett Crochet have tantalizing stuff that has given MLB hitters fits much of this season. Lately, however, the pendulum has swung. On Tuesday, Petal High product Evans was knocked around for four runs in 2/3 of an inning in Texas’ loss to Oakland. The 24-year-old right-hander has been touched for seven earned runs in his last three appearances and seen his ERA jump to 8.68 in nine games overall. Crochet, an Ocean Springs product, had an even rougher outing Tuesday: four runs allowed without retiring a batter in the Chicago White Sox’s loss against Pittsburgh. The 22-year-old lefty has coughed up runs in his last three appearances and seen his ERA rise to 2.78 over 21 games. By cosmic coincidence, Evans and Crochet debuted on the same day – Sept. 18 – last season. Hitters had to adjust to the new guys with the big arms. Now the young pitchers might have to do some adjusting. Evans’ adjustments will come at Triple-A Round Rock, as he was optioned out on Wednesday.