Since the freshly crowned Los Angeles Dodgers’ previous World Series title in 1988, a handful of Mississippians have worn Dodger blue and experienced, to some extent, the franchise’s frustration. Maybe some of them are smiling today in the afterglow of that long-awaited celebration on Tuesday night, when the Dodgers finished off Tampa Bay in a compelling Game 6. Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton, was on the 2018 Dodgers team that lost in the Fall Classic to Boston. Greenwood’s Louis Coleman pitched for the 2016 team that fell in the National League Championship Series to the Chicago Cubs. Louisville native Marcus Thames was on the 2011 team that didn’t make the playoffs, and Hattiesburg’s John Lindsey played briefly for the 2010 club that also fell short of the postseason. Brent Leach, the former Brandon High and Delta State standout, pitched for the 2009 Dodgers, who lost in the NLCS to Philadelphia. Gulfport native and Mississippi State alum Gary Rath pitched for an also-ran L.A. team in 1998. Dave Clark, the ex-Shannon High and Jackson State star, was a pinch hitter for the 1996 Dodgers, who lost in the division series to Atlanta. Biloxi native and DSU product Barry Lyons got into a handful of games with the Dodgers in 1990 and ’91. The lone Mississippi link on this year’s title team is Alex Wood, a former Mississippi Braves star who pitched brilliantly (six up, six down) in Game 6. A little research finds that, oddly enough, there has never been a Mississippi native or college alum on any of the Dodgers’ seven world championship teams. On the short list of those who have played for the franchise in any season, from Brooklyn to L.A., are Cleo James, Tommy Dean, Hal Lee, Jim Roberts and Dolly Stark.
“Baseball’s fun.” Brett Phillips, the former Biloxi Shuckers outfielder and hero of Game 4 of the World Series, threw out that little pearl in his breathless postgame TV interview Saturday night. Baseball can be gut-churning and soul-crushing, too, because one team has to lose. That’s how it works. But at its core, baseball is a kids’ game — and it’s fun. How could Game 4 be described as anything else? Filled with twists and turns, capped by a crazy walk-off play, three images will endure: Tampa Bay’s Randy Arozarena, who scored the winning run, lying in the third-base line, slapping home plate with his hand. Phillips, whose two-out hit set in motion the game-deciding play, imitating an airplane in the outfield as his exhuberant teammates chased after him. Dave Roberts, the Los Angeles Dodgers manager, looking out incredulously at the scene from the dugout railing. Game 4, an 8-7, series-squaring win for the Rays, featured six home runs, including a tape-measure blast by ex-Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe. There was some clutch pitching, too, as a parade of arms went to the bump. There was some good defense — Renfroe was credited with two outfield assists and Mookie Betts made another athletic snag — and there was the shaky D on the final play, where a bobble, a hesitant relay throw and a whiffed catch allowed the winning run to score. It’s a best-of-3 now. Game 5 is tonight. It’s gonna be fun.
In addition to Crystal Springs native and Mississippi State alum Hunter Renfroe, Tampa Bay’s right fielder and cleanup batter tonight, there are several other Magnolia State connections on this year’s World Series clubs. Former Mississippi Braves standout Charlie Morton, who pitched for the Southern League playoff team in 2007, is likely to start Game 3 for Tampa Bay. The veteran right-hander has seven career postseason wins and is 3-0 in this year’s playoffs. The Rays’ roster also includes former Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Brett Phillips, a self-anointed player-coach of sorts. “I’m looking around and I’m like, we got the manager and the bench coach, and the analytical guy, but we don’t have the keep-it-simple guy,” Phillips said in a recent Sports Illustrated story. “So I call myself the keep-it-simple guy. I consider myself a player-coach.” Phillips played for the Shuckers in 2015 and 2016, belting 16 homers the latter season. He has been with four organizations in his brief pro career and batted .150 in 20 at-bats for the Rays this season. The Los Angeles Dodgers have a couple of Mississippi ties: left-hander Alex Wood, a onetime M-Braves star, and, behind the scenes, Director of Player Health Ron Porterfield, who was the trainer for the Double-A Generals when the Houston farm team first arrived in Jackson in 1991. Wood pitched at Trustmark Park in 2013, going 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA in 10 starts before earning a promotion to Triple-A. He has an MLB career ERA of 3.45. Porterfield, a widely acclaimed trainer, spent 12 years in the Rays’ organization before joining the Dodgers in 2017.
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.
Petco Park should be the center of MLB attention tonight. The hard-charging San Diego Padres, with some Mississippi connections kicking in, host the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of a hot National League West series. The Padres closed to within 1.5 games of the Dodgers with a 7-2 win on Monday night, their eighth straight victory. They’ve made up 4 games in the standings over the last 10. “Of course we’re amped,” Trent Grisham, the former Biloxi Shuckers star who homered off Clayton Kershaw on Monday, told mlb.com. Grisham’s post-homer posturing riled up the Dodgers’ bench, perhaps adding more juice to a growing rivalry. Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz threw a scoreless inning in relief for San Diego and maintained his 0.00 ERA. Over 17 appearances, the big lefty, a high-priced free agent addition in the off-season, has eight holds and four saves. He has worked two straight days, so he might be down tonight, but ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland won’t be. Moreland, who doesn’t hit left-handers well, sat out against Kershaw on Monday, but the veteran first baseman is in the lineup tonight against right-hander Tony Gonsolin. Moreland was batting .328 with eight homers when the Padres traded with Boston to get him. He has hit just .167 with a homer and four RBIs in 11 games with San Diego. He’s bound to get going, and the last two games of this series are bound to be good. P.S. Washington has recalled Ole Miss alum Aaron Barrett from its alternate camp. The 32-year-old right-hander made an admirable comeback from injuries (see previous posts) to reach the majors last year for the first time since 2015.
On this date in 2010, in his 16th season in pro ball, at age 33, John Lindsey made his big league debut. The former Hattiesburg High slugger was announced as a pinch hitter for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Then the San Diego Padres changed pitchers, and Lindsey was called back. Another hitter took the turn. Lindsey did get his long-awaited first at-bat the next day and popped up, again as a pinch hitter. He would get 11 more ABs that season, delivering one hit, but that would be his only fling in the majors. Though he never hit a home run in the big leagues, Lindsey belongs in the conversation about the best mashers Mississippi has produced, right there with Dave Parker, George Scott, Luke Easter and the like. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Lindsey bashed 377 homers in pro ball, according to numbers from baseball-reference.com, over a 22-year career that ended in the Mexican Pacific League in 2016. He hit his first homer for Colorado’s rookie league team in 1995 at age 18 and his last long ball for Novojoa in the MPL at age 38.
The Los Angeles Dodgers will open their season on July 23 at home against longtime rival San Francisco. There will be a national TV (ESPN) audience but – unfortunately — no people in the seats. Right fielder Mookie Betts isn’t the only thing new at Dodger Stadium for 2020. The old ballpark, which opened in 1958, has undergone a $100 million renovation under the direction of Jackson native Janet Marie Smith, the club’s Senior Vice President of Planning and Development. “It’s less of a renovation in an architectural sense,” she recently told lamag.com, “than it is a reimagining of how these buildings come together.” A new plaza beyond center field makes it a more fan-friendly, fan-accessible facility. All it needs now is some fans. The MLB All-Star Game was originally scheduled for Dodger Stadium this summer but will now be played at Chavez Ravine in 2022. Smith, a Mississippi State alumna elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame this year, also has worked directly on stadium projects at Camden Yards, Fenway Park and Turner Field and consulted on many others. Her work at Baltimore’s Camden Yards, which opened in 1992, spearheaded a new era in stadium design. The Boston Globe has described Smith as “the architect credited with saving Fenway Park.” P.S. MLB’s only new stadium, Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, will be formally unveiled on July 24 when the Rangers face Colorado. Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn is slated to start the game for Texas. … Atlanta’s newly named Truist Park (formerly Sun Trust Park) will host its first official game on July 29.
A couple of Mississippi products took star turns on Tuesday night in Boise, Idaho, when the Pioneer League and Northwest League All-Stars faced off in the annual clash of rookie-level circuits. Former Mississippi College standout Blaine Crim went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and earned Top Star honors for the NWL squad. He was upstaged a bit by Sam McWilliams, a Meridian Community College alum from Magee who hit a two-run homer, one of the four homers mashed by Pioneer stars in their 11-7 victory. “It was great to be here with the best guys around the league and just have fun for a night,” Crim told milb.com. “Definitely worth the trip.” Crim, the Gulf South Conference player of the year in 2019, was a 19th-round pick by Texas in June and is having an excellent season at Spokane. The first baseman/DH is hitting .341 with four homers and 24 RBIs. McWilliams, a 19th-round pick by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2018 off a loaded MCC club, is batting .291 with 11 homers and 29 RBIs at Ogden. A second baseman, he hit .276 in the Arizona League last season. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, both promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on Monday, made smashing debuts on Tuesday, Waters going 3-for-5 with an RBI and Pache 2-for-5 with an RBI. Pache is the Braves’ No. 1 prospect, Waters No. 2.
The projected MLB arrival time (per MLB Pipeline) for Petal’s Demarcus Evans is 2020. The big right-hander, pitching at Double-A Frisco in the Texas system, appears to be running on schedule. Evans, 22, has not allowed an earned run in nine straight appearances and has a 1.40 ERA over 15 games since being promoted from Class A Down East in late May. He posted an 0.81 and six saves for Down East. On Thursday night, Evans worked a clean ninth inning in a 4-2 win over Tulsa to notch his first Double-A save. He has 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 19 1/3 innings. The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Evans, a 25th-round draft pick out of Petal High in 2015, throws what is described as an exploding fastball and a quality curve. He has averaged 13.7 K’s per nine innings in his five-year pro career. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move up to Triple-A before this season ends. P.S. Playing shortstop for Tulsa in that Texas League game was Errol Robinson, the former Ole Miss star. He had two hits, including a homer, and boosted his average to .318 for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ affiliate. (He did not face Evans.) Robinson started this season in Triple-A but struggled (.220) and was sent down in late June to Tulsa, where he has begun to perk up.
Mitch Moreland and Drew Pomeranz earned World Series rings on Sunday night when Boston dispatched Los Angeles in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium. Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State star from Amory, hit a key home run in Saturday’s comeback win; Ole Miss product Pomeranz did not make a Series appearance out of the Red Sox’s bullpen. This makes four straight years that a Mississippi-connected player has won a ring. Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Tony Sipp got one with Houston last year (though he didn’t play in the Series); UM alum Chris Coghlan won his with the Chicago Cubs in 2016; and Southwest Mississippi CC product Jarrod Dyson was on Kansas City’s title team in 2015. … Pomeranz, Sipp, former Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier (who was with the vanquished Dodgers in the 2018 Series) and ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn (who won a ring with St. Louis in 2011) are free agents this off-season. … Former Pillow Academy standout Louis Coleman reportedly elected free agency last week after he was removed from Detroit’s 40-man roster and outrighted to the minors.