From the Where Did the Time Go Dept.: Charlie Morton, who has signed with Atlanta for 2021, pitched for the Mississippi Braves in 2007, the Double-A club’s third year in Pearl. The 37-year-old right-hander is the lone player from any of those first three teams still in the majors. A somber reminder of what a fleeting thing a pro baseball career truly is. The ’07 M-Braves’ roster also included Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Jo-Jo Reyes, Brandon Jones, Joey Devine and Brent Lillibridge, among other future big leaguers. Managed by Phillip Wellman, the ’07 M-Braves made the Southern League playoffs for the first time. Morton was not a real standout that year, going 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA mostly as a reliever, but he did throw a gem in the playoffs. He debuted with Atlanta in 2008, then was traded the next year. Morton’s MLB career really didn’t take off until 2017, when he helped Houston win the World Series. He nearly won another ring with Tampa Bay this season. He can help the Braves in what likely will be his final season.
Eleven years ago today, Chris Coghlan became the first and so far only Mississippi native or college alumnus to win an MLB rookie of the year award. Coghlan, a former Ole Miss star, claimed the trophy with the Florida Marlins in 2009. He is one of only three Magnolia State natives or college alums to win one of baseball’s three big individual player awards. Grenada native Dave Parker won the National League MVP trophy in 1978, and Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2008. … Former Mississippi minor league players raked in a nice haul of awards this year, including former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman winning NL MVP and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams NL rookie of the year. Williams also won the league’s Trevor Hoffman Award as reliever of the year. Freeman won a Silver Slugger, as did M-Braves alum Ronald Acuna. Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried and ex-Shuckers outfielder Trent Grisham, who plays for San Diego, picked up Gold Gloves. … Freeman is the first M-Braves product to win an MVP but not the first former Jackson area Double-A player to do so. Former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell was NL MVP in 1989 with San Francisco, narrowly beating out former Mississippi State star and Giants teammate Will Clark. The M-Braves have produced two rookies of the year, Acuna in 2018 and Craig Kimbrel in 2011, and Jackson Mets alum Darryl Strawberry took that honor in 1983. Mike Scott, a former JaxMets pitcher, won the Cy Young Award in 1986.
Just like the last time Tampa Bay was in the World Series, there is a Mississippi native and state college alum on the roster. Current Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe is hoping for a better result than former Rays pitcher Chad Bradford witnessed in 2008. Bradford, a Hinds Community College and Southern Miss product from Byram, made two scoreless appearances in the ’08 Series, which the Rays lost to Philadelphia in five games. Bradford was a late-season acquisition from Baltimore who posted a 1.42 ERA in 21 games for Tampa Bay down the stretch in 2008, his next-to-last season in The Show. The submarine-style reliever, one of the key figures in “Moneyball,” was money in the postseason over his career, putting up a 0.39 ERA in 24 games spread over seven postseasons. He didn’t have a big impact in the ’08 Series. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, might be in a position to do a bit more in his first postseason. Renfroe belted eight homers for the Rays during the year but has been relatively quiet at the plate in the postseason so far. He has one homer and six RBIs while going 3-for-15 with nine strikeouts. He did not play in Saturday’s Game 7 win. He figures to get some swings against left-handers in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. … The last time Atlanta was in the World Series, there was a third baseman from Mississippi on the roster. Current Braves third sacker Austin Riley will have to wait at least another year to experience the Fall Classic as Howard Battle did in 1999. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Riley went 1-for-4 with an RBI – and a baserunning gaffe – as the Braves fell to the Dodgers on Sunday night in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Riley hit a huge home run in Game 1 (see previous post) but ultimately batted just .143 in the NLCS and .178 in the postseason overall, striking out 18 times. Back in ’99, Battle, an Ocean Springs native and Mercy Cross High product, was on a Braves team that made it through a dramatic NLCS but was swept in the World Series by a New York Yankees juggernaut. In his 10th pro season in 1999, Battle was a late addition to the Braves’ roster, going 6-for-17 with a homer in September, and was a surprise addition to their postseason roster. He went 0-for-3 in the first two rounds and made just one “appearance” in the Fall Classic. He was announced as a pinch hitter in Game 1 and then lifted for another. He never appeared in another major league game. Riley, just a second-year big leaguer, will have more opportunities to chase a ring, though, after Sunday’s painful loss, he probably isn’t thinking about that just yet.
Cristian Pache gave Atlanta fans something to feel good about on Wednesday night, hitting his first career big league home run in an otherwise desultory Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. The former Mississippi Braves standout may also have sent fans of the old Jackson Generals on a trip down memory lane. Pache, who had four at-bats in the regular season, became just the seventh player to hit his first career homer in the postseason and the first position player to do so since Melvin Mora in 1999. Mora, who came through Houston’s Venezuelan pipeline in the early ’90s, spent parts of two seasons with the Double-A Generals, batting .298 for the ’95 team and .286 for the ’96 club that won a Texas League title. A versatile infielder, Mora left Houston as a minor league free agent and signed with the New York Mets in 1998. He debuted in the majors in ’99 and shined in the NLCS against the Braves. In addition to hitting his first homer – off Kevin Millwood in a Game 2 loss – Mora had five other hits, drove in two runs, scored three and stole two bases as New York fell in six games. The Mets ultimately dealt Mora to Baltimore, where he blossomed into a two-time All-Star. He batted .277 with 171 homers over 13 seasons, playing until he was 39. The 21-year-old Pache, a Dominican Republic native, can only hope for a career that good, though there is much promise. He is the Braves’ top prospect, having drawn comps to Andruw Jones, and likely will be their center fielder next season. He spent parts of the ’18 and ’19 seasons with the M-Braves, hitting .274 with 12 homers in 133 games. M-Braves faithful might remember Pache’s performance from June 15, 2019, the night of Dallas Keuchel’s tuneup appearance. Pache hit a game-tying homer in the seventh inning – the final scheduled inning – and threw out a runner at the plate in the eighth. The M-Braves went on to win.
In the midst of a humble postseason, his first in the majors, Hunter Renfroe took a star turn on Tuesday night and is now on the brink of a World Series trip. The former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs hit a two-run double and made two sparkling catches in right field to help Tampa Bay beat Houston 5-2 and go up 3-0 in the American League Championship Series. Renfroe was 1-for-10 in the 2020 postseason when he stepped in as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning at San Diego. He hit an opposite-field flare that dropped into right field and plated two runs, capping the Rays’ game-turning five-run inning. Renfroe stayed in the game as the right fielder and made lunging, run-saving catches in the seventh and eighth innings. He came up with the Padres and played many innings in right at Petco Park, though he was known more for his arm than his glove. “I feel really comfortable here, as far as playing the outfield,” Renfroe said in an mlb.com piece. “I knew, right away, what these balls were going to do.” Renfroe’s only other postseason hit was a grand slam against Toronto in the wild card round. He batted just .156 in the regular season but had a knack for productive swings. Of his 19 hits, 13 were for extra bases, and he drove in 22 runs in 42 games. P.S. So, how productive has Atlanta’s farm system been in recent years? Consider this evidence: In Game 3 of the National League Championship Series today, the Braves’ nine-man lineup included seven players who suited up for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. And the starting pitcher, Kyle Wright, also did time at Trustmark Park, as did the starters in Games 1 and 2. More than 150 players have advanced to the big leagues through Pearl since 2005. The Los Angeles Dodgers started four players who came up through their system, plus the starting pitcher, in today’s game.
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 certainly has postseason experience. Fifty-one games of it, to be precise. The San Diego Padres, one loss from elimination in the National League Division Series, will try to make use of it in Game 3 tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Former Mississippi State star Moreland didn’t start either of the first two games but certainly looked ready for duty on Wednesday night, fueling a ninth-inning rally with a pinch RBI double. Moreland is 4-for-7 in this postseason. In his career, the 35-year-old Amory native has a .261 postseason average with four homers, 19 RBIs, 10 doubles and 17 runs. He has played in three World Series and won a ring in 2018 with Boston. Makes sense the Padres would want him in the lineup in a do-or-die game. P.S. Ex-MSU standout and Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe, who hit eight homers this season and another in the wild card round, did not play in the first three games of Tampa Bay’s American League Division Series vs. the New York Yankees and is not in the announced lineup for tonight’s Game 4. A left-hander, Jordan Montgomery, was slated to start for the Yankees. Renfroe, a right-handed hitter, was 1-for-5 in the wild card round vs. Toronto. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, in his first postseason with Atlanta, is 4-for-17 overall and went 3-for-9 vs. Miami in the division series sweep. … McComb native Corey Dickerson was 1-for-15 (with a home run) in his first postseason before going 3-for-4 for Miami against the Braves today. He was hitless in the first two games.
Among the flood of pitchers who have toed the rubber at Trustmark Park en route to the big leagues, Ian Anderson achieved a special distinction. He had a hand in one of the three no-hitters hurled by Mississippi Braves pitchers during the Double-A club’s first 15 years in Pearl. The right-hander, now Atlanta’s No. 2 starter, worked the first seven innings of a combo no-no (with Jeremy Walker) in June of 2019. And Anderson worked his magic on a special night in front of a big crowd: The M-Braves wore throwback Jackson Generals uniforms, honoring the old Double-A franchise that played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1975-99. M-Braves fans might remember Anderson, with his distinctive, over-the-top delivery, as a good — if not great — pitcher. He went 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA over 19 starts in 2019. Since getting the call to Atlanta in late August, Anderson has been even better: 3-2, 1.95 in the regular season. He shut down the New York Yankees in his MLB debut and handcuffed Cincinnati in Game 2 of the wild card series. He goes today in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against Miami, with the Braves up 1-0. Braves fans should be enthused. Here’s what Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci recently wrote: “Anderson, 22, is the difference-maker, capable of reshaping what you thought you knew about this postseason the way rookie Michael Wacha of the (St. Louis) Cardinals did in 2013.” Wacha went 4-1, 2.64 in five postseason starts for the World Series team. P.S. Another former M-Braves hurler, Charlie Morton, starts for Tampa Bay against the Yankees tonight in Game 3 of that division series. Morton had a down year: 2-2, 4.74 ERA. … Baseball Digest’s annual awards had a distinct Mississippi flavor, with former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman earning player of the year honors and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams tabbed as reliever of the year. Freeman batted .341 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs and an MLB-leading 51 runs scored for National League East champion Atlanta. Freeman passed through Trustmark Park in 2009 – arriving in July in tandem with Jason Heyward – and hit .248 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 41 games, missing part of the season with an injury. Williams, a rookie, had a breakout campaign for Milwaukee, finishing with an 0.33 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 27 innings, leading all relievers. He pitched for Biloxi in 2019, going 7-2 with four saves and a 2.70 ERA in 31 relief appearances. Williams joined the Braves’ Anderson on MLB Pipeline’s all-rookie team for 2020. … Ole Miss alum and Mississippi resident Andy Fletcher was behind home plate for Tuesday’s Atlanta-Miami game, which produced some drama after Ronald Acuna, who belted a leadoff homer, was hit by a pitch in his second at-bat.
The Tampa Bay-New York series at San Diego’s Petco Park may have the look of a Mississippi State reunion for some, though these are two teams that really don’t get along. Former Bulldogs star Hunter Renfroe plays for the Rays and former State teammate Jonathan Holder for the Yankees; they are among the six Mississippians expected to be active for the second round of this unique MLB postseason. The openers of the two American League Division Series are today. Renfroe, who spent the first four years of his career playing home games at Petco, had an odd season, hitting just .156 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. He was 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts and three walks against Yankees pitchers. He was 0-for-1 vs. Holder. (MSU alum Nate Lowe, who batted .224 with four homers and 11 RBIs for the Rays after getting recalled in September, was left off the ALDS roster.) Holder, who had a 4.98 ERA in 18 appearances, worked five innings against the Rays, allowing four hits in 18 at-bats. He allowed one run, a homer by Mike Brosseau. On the National League side, MSU alum Mitch Moreland and Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz are with San Diego, which faces Los Angeles beginning Tuesday, and ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson go head-to-head in the Atlanta-Miami series. P.S. Here’s a number to crunch: 29. That’s the number of Mississippians (natives or college alums) who appeared in a major league game in 2020. Of those 29, 16 are products of state high school programs. Three players made their debuts this season, Brent Rooker, Garrett Crochet and Demarcus Evans. The totals don’t include Justin Steele, former George County High star who was on the Chicago Cubs’ active roster for four days in early August but did not make an appearance. The full rundown: Hitters: Anthony Alford (Petal High); Tim Anderson (East Central CC); Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC); Brian Dozier (Southern Miss); Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC); Adam Frazier (Mississippi State); Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville); JaCoby Jones (Richton); Nate Lowe (MSU); Mitch Moreland (MSU); Hunter Renfroe (MSU); Austin Riley (DeSoto Central); Brent Rooker (MSU); Pitchers: Aaron Barrett (Ole Miss); Cody Carroll, (USM); Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs High); Demarcus Evans (Petal High); Kendall Graveman (MSU); Jonathan Holder (MSU); Dakota Hudson (MSU); Lance Lynn (UM); Mike Mayers (UM); Drew Pomeranz (UM); Cody Reed (Northwest CC); Chris Stratton (MSU); Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central); Jacob Waguespack (UM); Bobby Wahl (UM); and Brandon Woodruff (MSU).
Flashback to Oct. 12, 2018: Game 1, National League Championship Series. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, hits a home run off Clayton Kershaw and works two perfect innings in relief to lead Milwaukee to a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s an enduring postseason highlight for a Mississippi baseball aficionado. (Worth noting: Five days later, Kershaw beat the Brewers – and Woodruff, who again worked in relief – in Game 5. LA won the series in seven.) Back to Oct. 1, 2020: Woodruff squares off with Kershaw again tonight at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of their NL Wild Card Series; it’s a must-win for the Brewers. Though Woodruff won’t get to hit against Kershaw tonight, the pitching matchup alone is compelling. Woodruff is coming off his best start of the season (eight shutout innings vs. St. Louis on Sept. 26) and has a strong postseason resume (2.20 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings over five games). The Hall of Fame-bound Kershaw, 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA this season, has had his ups and downs in the postseason: 9-11, 4.43 in 32 appearances. Woodruff told reporters Wednesday he is taking a measured approach: “I try to treat each day the same and come in and do the same routine, keep everything the exact same.” Perhaps that’ll rekindle some of the magic of Oct. 12, 2018. P.S. MSU product Hunter Renfroe hit .156 for Tampa Bay this season, but eight his 19 hits left the park. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, that his lone hit (in four at-bats) in the AL Wild Card Series vs. Toronto was a home run. Renfroe, playing in his first postseason game on Wednesday, hit the first postseason grand slam in Tampa Bay history to cap a six-run second inning as the Rays completed a sweep of the Blue Jays with an 8-2 win. … Former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson, playing in his first postseason game, hit a go-ahead three-run homer for Miami – off Kyle Hendricks, no less — in a Game 1 win against the Chicago Cubs. “It was about seeing it over the plate, get my timing right and letting it go,” Dickerson told mlb. com. “I got a good pitch to hit (a first-pitch, four-seam fastball).” … Former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley, in his first postseason, went 1-for-8 in Atlanta’s series sweep against Cincinnati. He contributed to the game-winning rally in the 13th inning on Wednesday with a single that moved pinch runner Cristian Pache to second base. Pache later scored the marathon game’s lone run on a Freddie Freeman single. (Worth noting: There were 13 former Mississippi Braves on Atlanta’s 28-man roster.) … Drew Pomeranz, an Ole Miss alum and postseason veteran, worked a scoreless inning in San Diego’s loss to St. Louis in their series opener on Wednesday. Mitch Moreland, an MSU product and also a postseason vet, did not play in Game 1 but is in the lineup at DH for Game 2. … East Central CC alum Tim Anderson, appearing in his first postseason and apparently thrilled to be on the big stage, was 6-for-9 with two runs in the first two games of the White Sox’s AL series against Oakland, then got hits in his first two ABs in today’s Game 3. Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet, the ChiSox’s gas-throwing lefty making just his sixth appearance in a big league game, struck out Matt Olson with runners at the corners and two outs in the first inning of Game 3, then struck out Khris Davis to start the second inning before departing with an apparent injury. His velocity reportedly was down.