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.
If you were waiting for a highlight moment from a Mississippian in the 2021 postseason, the wait is over. Austin Riley delivered Saturday night with a 428-foot home run at the expense of another state high school product, Brandon Woodruff. Riley, the pride of DeSoto Central, gave Atlanta a 3-0 lead with his sixth-inning solo bomb at Milwaukee’s American Family Field as the Braves evened the National League Division Series at a game apiece. Riley, playing third base, also started the game-ending double play that came with the tying run at the plate. Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Max Fried, as good as any pitcher in MLB down the stretch, outpitched Woodruff, the Wheeler High and Mississippi State alum who also ranked among the NL ERA leaders. Woodruff wasn’t bad on Saturday. Two of Atlanta’s biggest hits — an Ozzie Albies RBI double and Riley’s homer — actually came on good pitches. But Woodruff can be home run-prone — 18 in 30 games this season — and the country-strong Riley barreled an 0-1 changeup down and away deep over the right-center field fence in Woodruff’s last inning of work. Riley, the Braves’ cleanup batter the last half of the season, ranked in the top 10 in the NL in batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases. That’s MVP-type stuff. Seems only fitting that he would deliver a postseason highlight. And it won’t be a surprise if he delivers more.
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.
Four Mississippians took the field in four of the biggest games on a compelling Tuesday night in the big leagues. Their results were a mixed bag. Only former DeSoto Central High standout Austin Riley celebrated a win, but he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts and four stranded runners in Atlanta’s gut-churning 2-1 victory against Philadelphia in the crucial National League East showdown. Hunter Renfroe, the Mississippi State product from Crystal Springs, hit his 29th home run for Boston but saw his team lose to Baltimore and fall 2 games back of first-place New York in the crazy American League wild card race. Ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a double and an RBI for Toronto, but the Blue Jays lost to the Yankees and slipped to fourth in the wild card standings, behind both Boston and surging Seattle. MSU alum Brandon Woodruff started for Milwaukee but lasted just four innings in the Brewers’ loss to St. Louis, which won for the 17th straight time and clinched the second NL wild card in the process. The Brewers have already clinched the Central Division crown. The big games continue tonight with the Braves, leading Philly by 3.5 games, sending ex-Mississippi Braves star Max Fried (13-7, 3.12 ERA) to the bump at Truist Park. P.S. Houston, which has not yet clinched the AL West, put State product Kendall Graveman, one of its key relievers, on the paternity list on Tuesday. The Astros, with a magic number of 1 to put away Seattle, are hosting AL East champion Tampa Bay. Houston won the series opener 4-3 on a walk-off walk. The Mariners are hosting Oakland.
One run allowed on two hits and a walk over six innings. Ten strikeouts. An excellent day’s work for a big league pitcher — but not quite good enough for Milwaukee’s starter on this particular day. Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State standout from Wheeler, hung up that pitching line against St. Louis on Tuesday night but suffered a loss. Woodruff has seen this movie before. Despite a 2.52 ERA, one of the best in MLB, Woodruff’s record is 9-10. He surpassed 200 strikeouts on the season but had no reason to celebrate. The Brewers’ lone run in the 2-1 loss came after Woodruff had departed. They have scored an average of 2.82 runs in his 29 starts. That’s the worst run support for any qualified pitcher in the majors. “It’s a hard game, man,” Woodruff told mlb.com postgame. “We’re doing everything we can.” Milwaukee has clinched a playoff berth but not the National League Central title. The magic number remains 3 to put away the Cardinals, who have won 10 in a row. The two meet again today in Milwaukee. P.S. DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley’s 30th home run of the season propelled Atlanta to a 6-1 win over Arizona and kept the first-place Braves 3 games up on Philadelphia in the NL East. … Another former Mississippi Braves standout, Tommy LaStella, led off the game with his sixth homer to help San Francisco beat San Diego 6-5 and stay a game up on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West.
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.
Capping a rapid rise through the minor leagues this season, Colby White made his Triple-A debut on Sunday, pitching 1 2/3 innings in relief for the Durham Bulls. The former Mississippi State star began his second year in pro ball at the Low-A level for Tampa Bay, advanced to High-A, then Double-A and got the promotion to Durham last week. “This is my first full season, and I’m in Triple-A,” the 2019 draftee told The Columbian-Progress of Columbia. “It’s pretty cool.” White played at West Marion High and Pearl River Community College before signing with MSU, where he posted a 3.12 ERA in 27 games in 2019 on a staff that included Ethan Small, J.T. Ginn and Cole Gordon. Tampa Bay drafted the hard-throwing right-hander in the sixth round, and he made 15 appearances at the rookie level that summer. After the 2020 COVID-19 hiatus, White has been nothing short of sensational this season: 1.49 ERA, 10 saves, 93 strikeouts and 12 walks in 54 1/3 innings over the four levels. He reportedly touched 100 mph in an outing with Montgomery at Trustmark Park in Pearl last week. P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn returned from an injured list stint (knee) on Sunday to throw five scoreless innings for the Chicago White Sox against Boston. He yielded two hits, no walks and fanned nine. Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet followed Lynn and got five outs in a game the first-place White Sox would win 2-1 on Leury Garcia’s walk-off homer. … Former State standout Brandon Woodruff (9-8, 2.48) was held out of a slated start on Sunday for first-place Milwaukee because of a stomach ailment. He’ll go Wednesday. … Ex-Bulldogs ace Dakota Hudson, rehabbing in St. Louis’ system (see previous posts), went five innings Sunday and got a win for Double-A Springfield.
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.
Yes, it was a Clint Eastwood/spaghetti Western kinda day for Mississippians in the majors. To wit:
Good: Brandon Woodruff threw six strong innings for Milwaukee in a 6-2 win Tuesday night at San Francisco in a matchup of first-place teams. Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, allowed five hits, three walks and one run with eight strikeouts in running his record to 9-7. He has 15 starts this season in which he has gone at least six innings and allowed one run or fewer. The win was the Brewers’ second straight against the Giants, who lead all National League clubs with an 84-48 mark. “Coming in here and winning the first two is huge against essentially the best team in baseball,” Woodruff said in an Associated Press article.
Bad: Ole Miss product Lance Lynn and former State star Mitch Moreland, both playing for postseason contenders, landed on the 10-day injured list. Lynn, who has 10 wins for the Chicago White Sox, has a knee problem but is expected to miss just one start for the first-place club. Moreland, who has struggled (.227) much of the season for Oakland, has a wrist injury (tendinitis) that had sidelined him since Aug. 26. He could be down for a while.
Ugly: Ex-State standout Kendall Graveman, facing the player he was traded for last month, gave up a grand slam that sunk Houston in a 4-0 loss to American League West rival Seattle. Capping an eight-pitch at-bat, Abraham Toro turned around a 98-mph sinker in the pivotal bottom of the eighth inning. “It’s crazy how this game, things work out and things line up …,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told mlb.com. Graveman (5-1), who retired just one of the five batters he faced, had allowed only five earned runs in 41 previous appearances (44 innings) with Seattle and then Houston. His ERA jumped to 1.79.