30 Sep

meaningful moment

Austin Riley drove in three runs in Atlanta’s win on Wednesday night, and Hunter Renfroe’s 30th homer helped Boston secure a victory. Important contributions in critical games. But the feel-good story of the night from a Mississippi perspective was what happened in a relatively meaningless game in Pittsburgh. Trent Giambrone, a 25th-round draft pick out of Delta State five years ago, delivered a pinch-hit single in his first major league at-bat for the Chicago Cubs. Louisiana native Giambrone, who was not on the 40-man roster, was called up from Triple-A Iowa after fellow infielder Patrick Wisdom was placed on the injured list. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone was not having a good year with the I-Cubs, batting just .174, but the Cubs apparently wanted to reward him for grinding through 493 games in their minor league system. He had some good numbers — 17 homers, 26 steals in the Double-A Southern League in 2018 and 23 bombs with Iowa in 2019 — and was impressive in several spring training trials with the big club. His eighth-inning single Wednesday had teammates in the dugout standing and applauding — a moment Giambrone will always remember. He became the sixth Mississippi product to debut in MLB this season and the ninth Delta State alum to make The Show. Others on that list: Barry Lyons, Stewart Cliburn, Eli Whiteside and Jim Miles (the first in 1968). P.S. Shea Langeliers, fresh off winning a championship with the Mississippi Braves and earning Atlanta’s minor league player of the year honor, made his Triple-A debut on Wednesday. Catching and batting sixth, Langeliers went 0-for-3 with a walk in Gwinnett’s 6-1 win over Jacksonville. He hit .258 with 22 homers for the M-Braves.

25 Sep

perfect timing

Dakota Hudson returned just in time to have a hand in an historic win by St. Louis on Friday. The Mississippi State product, coming back from elbow surgery a year ago this month, worked 3 2/3 solid innings for the W as the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 12-4 to match the franchise record with 14 straight wins. The Cards won Game 1 of the doubleheader 8-5, beating George County High alum Justin Steele in the process. Surging St. Louis, which blasted eight homers on the day at Wrigley Field, has climbed from 3 games back of the second wild card in the National League to 5 games ahead of that pack. “It was just fun to get out there and compete,” said Hudson, who relieved Jack Flaherty — also making an injury comeback — in the first inning and allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts as he pitched through the fourth of the 7-inning game. A former first-round draft pick, Hudson is now 24-10 with a 3.20 ERA since arriving in the big leagues in 2018. … The last Cardinals team to win 14 straight was the Dizzy Dean-led Gas House Gang of 1935. P.S. On a crazy night at Trustmark Park, the Mississippi Braves took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Double-A South Championship Series with an 11-9 victory against Montgomery. The M-Braves go for the title tonight at the TeePee. Game 3 featured three homers (Drew Lugbauer, Greyson Jenista and C.J. Alexander) by the slugging M-Braves, who built an 11-4 lead with a six-run eighth. The last three outs proved a little hard to come by. It took three pitchers to nail it down in the ninth, when the Biscuits hit two bombs. With what was left of a crowd of about 2,000 screaming for the final out, Nolan Kingham ended it with a controversial strikeout, stranding the tying runs at first and third. He was the last of 12 pitchers who took the mound for the two clubs. There were 24 hits and four errors in the near 4-hour game plus a weird 5-2-6-4-6 double play that featured M-Braves shortstop Braden Shewmake running down two baserunners.

24 Sep

what’s on tap

At Trustmark Park in Pearl, the Mississippi Braves will try to take another step toward their second pennant when they host Montgomery in Game 3 (6:35 p.m.) of the Double-A South Championship Series. The M-Braves, 2008 champs in the Southern League, evened the series at 1-1 with an 8-5 win in the second game on Wednesday. Spencer Strider (3-7, 4.71 ERA), a 2020 Atlanta draft pick out of Clemson, goes to the bump for the M-Braves. The right-hander has 94 strikeouts in 63 innings over 14 starts. Trey Harris drove in three runs, Wendell Rijo homered, Justin Dean stole two bases and scored twice and the M-Braves bullpen finished with four scoreless innings in Game 2.
At Canal Park in Akron, Ohio, former Mississippi State standout Konnor Pilkington starts for the Akron Rubber Ducks in Game 3 of the Double-A Northeast title series against Bowie. The Ducks are up 2-0. Pilkington, a left-hander, went 3-2, 2.33 for Akron after coming over to Cleveland’s system from the Chicago White Sox. He is 7-6, 3.04 overall in 2021. Bowie’s shortstop is ex-State star Jordan Westburg, who hit .232 with four homers for the Baltimore farm club; he has 15 homers on the season.
At Wrigley Field, George County High product Justin Steele will try to stop St. Louis’ 12-game win streak when the rookie left-hander takes the mound for Chicago in Game 1 of a pair. Steele is 1-3, 5.12 in seven starts since the Cubs moved him from the bullpen. None of the Cardinals hitters have faced him. In the unlikely event the lowly Cubs sweep the Cardinals today, Milwaukee can clinch the National League Central with a win against the visiting New York Mets at American Family Field.
And at Fenway Park, there’s the always enthralling renewal of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. Boston leads New York by 2 games in the American League wild card battle with Toronto lurking a game back of the Yanks. Gerrit Cole (15-8, 3.03) starts for the Yankees; ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe, the Red Sox’s right fielder, is 3-for-18 with no RBIs career against the right-hander.

19 Sep

it’s your big debut

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.

02 Sep

resume building

Far from the MLB playoff races, where teams are looking to next year and players are seeking to make good impressions, the Chicago Cubs met the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Wednesday. Justin Steele, the former George County High star, made one of those good impressions. The Cubs’ rookie left-hander threw five shutout innings for his first win since shifting from the bullpen to the rotation. Relying mainly on two different fastballs, Steele allowed one hit, walked three, hit a batter and fanned three in the 3-0 victory. “I thought the fastball looked electric, to be honest with you,” Cubs manager David Ross said in an mlb.com story. Steele, who has made four starts, is 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA overall in 15 games for the fourth-place Cubs. Drafted in 2014, the 26-year-old Steele logged over 300 innings in an injury-plagued minor league journey before making his big league debut on April 12. Meanwhile, for the last-place Twins, ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker was a bright spot, getting the club’s only two hits, both singles. Rooker, also looking to make an impression for 2022, is batting .201 with six homers in 38 games. Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford, hoping to secure a 2022 job with Pittsburgh, hit his second homer of the season in the last-place Pirates’ loss to the Chicago White Sox. The oft-injured Alford is batting .180 in 23 games. MSU product Nate Lowe, toiling for last-place Texas, went 1-for-3 in a loss to Colorado. Lowe is batting .321 over his last 15 games and .261 with 14 homers on the season, his first with the Rangers. P.S. Mississippi State alum Will Bednar, the first Mississippian picked in this year’s draft (14th overall), made his pro debut on Monday, working a 1-2-3 inning for San Francisco’s Arizona Complex League club. … The White Sox put shortstop Tim Anderson on the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring issue; the former East Central Community College star, an MVP candidate, had missed several games recently with sore legs.

30 Aug

big league chew

Boston will be without slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe again tonight when it takes on first-place Tampa Bay in the opener of a big, four-game American League East series. Renfroe’s father and “best friend,” Todd, died from cancer last Thursday and the Crystal Springs native has been on bereavement leave since then. He had eight hits – four homers – over a seven-game stretch Aug. 17-25 and is batting .258 with 25 homers overall. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe was cut loose by the Rays after last season and signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. … Jarrod Dyson made his Toronto debut on Sunday, entering the game against Detroit as a pinch runner, then staying in to play center field. The Blue Jays are team No. 7 on the former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout’s career list. … Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley returned from the injured list for Cleveland over the weekend, going 2-for-9 in a series against Boston. Bradley is at .214 with 11 homers for the season with the Indians, clinging to wild card hopes in the AL. … Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin has been on Cleveland’s 10-day IL since Aug. 12 with no clear date for a return for the rookie right-hander. He reportedly is working out in Arizona. … Though there are no reports of an injury, MSU product Mitch Moreland did not leave the bench during the last three games of Oakland’s four-game series vs. the New York Yankees. Moreland is batting .227 with 10 homers. … Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton continued his rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte, going 1-for-3 Sunday. He is 3-for-19 with one stolen base in six games for the Chicago White Sox’s top affiliate. … Dakota Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago, made a rehab start for St. Louis’ Class A Palm Beach team on Saturday. The State product worked two scoreless innings, throwing 24 pitches and hitting 94 mph. … Former State star Jonathan Holder made his second rehab appearance of 2021 on Friday, yielding a homer in one inning for the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa club.

26 Aug

full speed ahead

Speed is the highlight tool in Jake Mangum’s bag. It was on full display Wednesday. The former Mississippi State star, playing center field for Double-A Binghamton, made three diving catches, one charging in, one going to his left and one to his right. (Check out the video on milb.com.) He also stole a base, his 12th of the season in 70 games for the New York Mets’ Double-A club, and just to show some versatility, belted his seventh home run in a 7-5 win at New Hampshire. Mangum is hitting .296 (.341 on-base percentage) with 21 doubles, four triples, 39 RBIs and 55 runs. The Flowood native was rated one of the fastest players in 2019 draft when the Mets took him – as an MSU senior – in the fourth round. Oddly enough, he has slipped off their Top 30 prospect chart. But if he keeps producing, that hardly matters. P.S. Loyd Star High alum James Beard was generally considered the fastest player in the 2019 draft, and he was picked in the fourth round, a few spots ahead of Mangum, by the Chicago White Sox. Now playing at Low-A Kannapolis, the 20-year-old Beard has nine steals and a .193 average in 63 games. … For the record, the top base-stealer among Mississippians in the minors in 2021 is Delvin Zinn, the ex-Itawamba Community College star now in the Cubs’ system. The fifth-year pro has 43 bags – 42 at High-A South Bend, one (in four attempts) in 17 games at Double-A Tennessee.

26 Aug

pitching in

Talk about your daunting tasks. Ole Miss product Chris Ellis got the ball Wednesday for his first start for his new team, the Baltimore Orioles, who happened to have lost 19 straight games. The opposing pitcher was none other than the modern-day Babe Ruth, Shohei Ohtani, who was also batting leadoff for the visiting Los Angeles Angels. So, of course, the Orioles won 10-6 in a Camden Yards slugfest. Ellis, in just his third MLB appearance, held his own. In three-plus innings, he allowed three runs. He struck out Ohtani both times he faced him. Ohtani was lifted after five innings, having allowed a career-high three homers and four runs. The O’s rallied against the L.A. bullpen. The atmosphere in the winner’s clubhouse was described as “electric.” … The honor of best pitching performance of the night by a Mississippian has to go to Brandon Woodruff. The ex-Mississippi State standout threw six shutout innings, fanning 10 and walking none, in Milwaukee’s 4-1 win vs. Cincinnati. Woodruff, now 8-7, had not won since June 29, despite pitching relatively well for the first-place Brewers. “I would say that Woodruff right there, that’s about as good of stuff as you’re going to have,” Reds manager David Bell told mlb.com. … Worthy of a shout-out also is State alum Kendall Graveman, who worked a clean inning and notched a win for Houston in its 6-5, 10-inning defeat of Kansas City. In 40 games between Seattle and Houston, Graveman is 5-0 with four holds, 10 saves (in 12 opps) and a 1.02 ERA. P.S. Jonathan Holder, out all season with a shoulder issue, may be close to making his Chicago Cubs debut. The 28-year-old reliever out of MSU made a rehab appearance at Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday.

24 Aug

box score treasure

Box scores are a wonderful thing. You stumble onto one and suddenly you’re digging up treasure. Take Aug. 24, 1930. New York Giants-Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. This was the last game of Tupelo native Andy Reese’s relatively brief big league career. An outstanding minor league player and manager for many years, Reese is in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. He played in 331 big league games for the Giants, batting .281. In his final game, he drew a walk as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning with the Giants down 2-1. The Cubs pitcher was Guy Bush, the Mississippi Mudcat from Aberdeen. The play-by-play from baseball-reference.com reveals that after a bunt by Starkville native Hughie Critz, Reese tried to score from second on a base hit but was cut down at the plate. He was tagged by Gabby Hartnett, called out by umpire Beans Reardon. If you know baseball history, you know those names. Hartnett hit the famous “Homer in the Gloamin’” in 1938. Reardon umped for 24 years and was behind the plate in 1935 when Babe Ruth hit his last homer, coincidentally against Bush. Hall of Famers Mel Ott and Bill Terry played for the Giants on Aug. 24, 1930, and fellow HOFer Hack Wilson was in the Cubs’ lineup. After the Giants tied the score at 2-2 in the ninth, the Cubs won it in the bottom half on a steal of home. Bush got the win while allowing 11 hits and three walks. The game took just an hour and 50 minutes. It was Andy Reese’s last game – but it was a lot more than that.

21 Aug

roll the tape

When the American League MVP voters begin to ponder their choice for 2021, they need to punch up the video from Friday night’s Chicago White Sox-Tampa Bay game. To appreciate the many talents of ex-East Central Community College star Tim Anderson, “show ’em this game today,” White Sox manager Tony La Russa said in an mlb.com story. In a clash of first-place clubs, Anderson went 3-for-6 with a home run, scored four times and drove in two runs in a 7-5, extra-inning win. One of the runs he scored came on an acrobatic slide to avoid a tag at the plate. The homer — his 14th — tied the game in the ninth after the White Sox had squandered a lead. In the 11th, he knocked in the go-ahead run and scored the final one. He has 51 RBIs and 78 runs, batting mainly in the leadoff spot. He is hitting .303 and has a 10-game hit streak in which he has batted .388 with four bombs, including that game-winner in the Field of Dreams Game. “(T)he confidence is at an all-time high,” he said postgame. The All-Star shortstop, eight years after leading ECCC to the state juco title, is leading the White Sox to their first division title since 2008. Said La Russa in the mlb.com piece: “There’s nobody in the league, either league, that’s better than he is when you look at the whole game.” Sounds like an MVP. P.S. Jonathan Holder, the Mississippi State product from Gulfport, made his first appearance of 2021 Friday on a rehab assignment (one inning, no runs) in the Arizona Complex League. Signed by the Cubs in the off-season, Holder has been down with a shoulder injury. The Cubs could use some help.