When you put the ball in play, something good might happen. Something did for Mitch Moreland and the Oakland A’s on Sunday. The Mississippi State product’s hard-hit liner in the bottom of the ninth got past Detroit’s third baseman and scored the game-winning run, notching the eighth straight win for the A’s, who began the season 1-7. Moreland hasn’t yet found his groove with the A’s, who signed the 12-year veteran as a free agent in the off-season. Used primarily as a DH, he is batting just .206 with five RBIs and has yet to homer or double. But A’s manager Bob Melvin felt confident in sending the left-handed hitter up as a pinch hitter against Tigers lefty Gregory Soto with the game on the line. “It was a little unorthodox with the left-on-left pinch hitter there, but Mitch has been around,” Melvin told mlb.com. “He’s smart in what he’s looking for. He was just trying to shoot it the other way where there were some holes open.” … Nate Lowe, another ex-State standout, got a walk-off hit for Texas in a 1-0, 10-inning win vs. Baltimore. It was the second walk-off RBI of Lowe’s career and gives him 16 RBIs, second in the American League. After a sizzling start, Lowe is hitting just .230 for the Rangers, who acquired him from Tampa Bay in the off-season. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson hit the first pitch of the first game of a twinbill out of Fenway Park, propelling the Chicago White Sox to a 3-2 win over Boston. It was the ninth career leadoff homer for Anderson, who is batting .310.
It’s not exactly King Kong vs. Godzilla, but Saturday’s doubleheader at Cresap Field in Fulton throws together the two current behemoths of Mississippi juco baseball. Pearl River Community College, ranked No. 2 in NJCAA Division II, is 14-4 in the MACCC standings, tied for first with Itawamba, ranked 11th. Not surprisingly, both of these clubs are loaded with hitters and hurlers boasting great numbers. The host Indians are led by Riley Davis, batting .484 with 24 RBIs and 28 runs, and Lane Domino, who has nine homers, 28 RBIs, 35 runs and a .398 average. On the mound, Brady Davis is 4-0, Will Armistead 3-0 and Collin Babin 4-2. PRCC features Tate Parker, hitting .398 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs, and Graham Crawford, .349 with nine bombs and 33 RBIs. Wildcats ace Landon Gartman is among the nation’s leaders at 6-0 with a 1.71 ERA. Sam Hill is 4-0, 3.18. … East Central is third in the league at 14-6 but coming off a crushing sweep at the hands of Hinds, which outscored the Warriors 21-3 behind five homers on Tuesday. ECCC visits Northwest (13-11) on Saturday. Meridian and Gulf Coast are both 12-6.
Excluding all the former Mississippi Braves in Atlanta, the most Mississippi-flavored team in the big leagues is the Chicago White Sox, a loaded club that will start the season with four familiar names on its roster. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson is the blossoming star at shortstop, former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn is in the starting rotation, ex-Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet is in the bullpen and former Taylorsville High standout Billy Hamilton has made the team as a reserve outfielder. Hamilton, now with his eighth club, is one of the fastest players in the game and factors in as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. Anderson, who won a batting title in 2019, is entrenched as the leadoff batter and unofficial team spokesman. Lynn, 33 and entering his 10th MLB campaign, was added in an off-season trade and brings a 3.57 career ERA and bulldog mentality. And then there’s Crochet, the 6-foot-6 left-hander who debuted last September just weeks after being drafted (11th overall out of Tennessee) and absolutely lit it up. He allowed three hits, one walk, no runs and fanned eight in six innings of work. Of his 85 pitches, 45 were 100 mph or faster. In nine frames this spring, he allowed two earned runs on six hits and four walks while striking out eight. Crochet’s velocity has been down a little this spring, but he says that’s of no real concern. “Everybody wants to see 100,” he told mlb.com last week. “I want to see 100, too, but my arm is feeling good. I’m competing out there as best as I can. Everything is feeling in sync. All my pitches are starting to get better every time I go out there.” Keep an eye on the ChiSox. P.S. In a bit of a surprise move, Minnesota assigned Mississippi State product Brent Rooker to its alternate site. The rookie outfielder had played well in camp, but the Twins have opted to go with 29-year-old journeyman Kyle Garlick on the 26-man roster. … Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central standout, will start the season on Detroit’s injured list. The right-hander is in COVID-19 protocol and has yet to be cleared to return. He reportedly is doing fine and eager to get back with the club, though it may be mid-April before that happens. … Other notable 40-man roster members currently on the IL: Jonathan Holder (Cubs), Bobby Wahl (Milwaukee), Dakota Hudson (St. Louis, out for the year) and Demarcus Evans (Texas).
This was a no-brainer, really. Tim Anderson was the clear choice for the 2020 Cool Papa Bell Award, given here for the top performance by a Mississippian (native or college alum) in the major leagues. Former East Central Community College star Anderson, who also won the award in 2019, earned a Silver Slugger this season at shortstop in the American League, which, considering all the good players at that position, is quite an honor. In 49 games, Anderson batted .322 with 10 homers, 21 RBIs and a league-leading 45 runs. He helped the Chicago White Sox reach the postseason and went 9-for-14 in the wild card round. Anderson was the AL batting champion in 2019, a year when he also garnered a lot of attention for his demonstrative style, including some much-publicized bat flips. The White Sox have hired a new manager for 2021: Tony LaRussa, who is not just old at 76 but has a reputation as an old-school skipper. Anderson, for his part, said he won’t be constrained. “I won’t change my style, the way I play, for Tony. I will continue to be me,” he told reporters after winning the Silver Slugger award. We’ll see how that works out. … Previous winners of the Cool Papa Bell Award, which honors Negro Leagues legend Bell, the first Mississippi native to be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, include Corey Dickerson (twice), Mitch Moreland, Brian Dozier (twice), Desmond Jennings, Lance Lynn, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Chris Coghlan. P.S. Kudos to Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams on winning the National League Rookie of the Year award. He is the first relief pitcher to be named the loop’s top rookie since former Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel in 2011.
Suddenly, it seems, the New York Yankees are hitting like the Bronx Bombers of old. Better, actually. The Yankees, who’ve won seven straight games after a major swoon, hit seven home runs Wednesday in a 13-2 win against Toronto at Yankee Stadium. They hit six homers on Tuesday. It’s the first time in franchise history – a history that includes Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, et al. – that the Yanks have hit six-plus bombs in back-to-back games. New York is 28-21 heading into tonight’s game vs. the Blue Jays and has climbed to within 3 games of first-place Tampa Bay in the American League East. The Yankees, despite a spate of injuries, lead the league in homers and are second in runs and slugging. Some credit here has to go to hitting coach Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and former East Central Community College star who was a pretty good slugger in his MLB time. A big league hitting coach puts in a tremendous amount of work each day, from preparing scouting reports on the opposing pitchers to helping scuffling hitters make adjustments. In a Yankees Magazine article from 2018, Thames said he also plays the role of a mental coach. “Baseball is a game of failure, and guys need somebody to lean on,” he said. “Sometimes you come to the cages, and it’s not all about baseball; you talk about other things, too.” Evidence suggests Thames, in his third year in the job, is doing some good work here lately. “I would say the confidence has grown with every run that we put on the board,” outfielder Clint Frazier, who homered in Wednesday’s rout, told mlb.com. “We have 33 runs in the last two games. I think that speaks for itself.”
The Chicago White Sox are on top of the heap in the American League. Having won eight of 10, they lead the AL Central with a 30-16 record, also best in the league. It’s no coincidence, really, that their leadoff batter, former East Central Community College star Tim Anderson, is leading MLB in batting with a .362 average, chasing a second straight batting crown. The White Sox have a stable of good hitters, from veterans Jose Abreu and James McCann to up-and-comers Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert. But Anderson, the 27-year-old shortstop in his seventh big league season, is the one who stirs the drink, both with his on-field skills and his forceful personality. “They’ve got great hitters. It starts with their leadoff guy, one of the better players in this league at a young age,” Detroit manager Ron Gardenhire told mlb.com after Anderson’s four-hit game on Saturday. Anderson is tied for the AL lead (with Mike Trout) in runs with 39. He has seven homers, 17 RBIs and five steals in 36 games. He is also improving on defense. “He can beat you with his bat, he knew that. He can beat you with his legs, he knew that. But now he’s beating you with his glove and with his smarts, and that has stardom written all over it,” ChiSox broadcaster Steve Stone said during a game recently. Abreu is having a monster year with 15 homers and 48 RBIs and is generating MVP buzz. Anderson should be getting some, too. P.S. What are the odds that three Mississippians in the majors would suffer broken bones and hit the injured list within a 12-day span? Only in 2020. Mississippi State product Brent Rooker, off to a nice (.316) start in his MLB debut with Minnesota, went on the IL on Sunday with a broken forearm. He joins Richton High alum JaCoby Jones (wrist) of Detroit and ex-Petal High star Anthony Alford (elbow) of Pittsburgh on the sideline. All are expected to miss the rest of the season.
Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star, didn’t waste any time making an impact for the Chicago White Sox in his first game off the injured list. Anderson led off Tuesday’s game with a walk and came around to score the first run in the White Sox’s 8-4 win at Detroit. He got a hit and scored again later in the game as the White Sox, expected to bid for a playoff spot this season, improved to 9-9. The defending American League batting champ, who hit .335 last season, is at .324 in 34 at-bats in 2020. He had been out since July 31 with a groin injury and was no doubt eager to get back in the lineup. Anderson told reporters pregame that his plan for his return was simple: “Just have fun. We’ll have fun. We’ll bring fun back.” Anderson has scored nine runs in his limited duty but has just one homer and no stolen bases. He hit 18 bombs last year and stole 17 bases. In addition to fun, he’ll bring some power and speed back, too.
Major league baseball will happen this year. Or at least a version of it, one with no fans, a quirky 60-game schedule, the three-batter minimum, a universal DH and a silly extra innings rule. But it’s gonna happen. Well, maybe. With a month to go before the first games, nothing can be certain. While we wait, here’s a 6-pack of Mississippi-connected storylines to ponder:
1) How does Tim Anderson follow up on last season, when he won the American League batting title? The East Central Community College product isn’t just trying to lead the Chicago White Sox to better days; he has taken on a much larger duty. Bob Nightengale of USA Today describes Anderson as “the new leading voice in the African-American community of Major League Baseball, vowing to do everything in his power to change the game and lead a renaissance to recreate the game for kids and a hip audience.” “I don’t look at it as a responsibility,” Anderson told Nightengale, “but it’s something I’m so proud to do. I want to represent the black community, and everything that comes with it.”
2) Will Brandon Woodruff take another step forward as one of the most dominant pitchers in the National League? Ex-Mississippi State star Woodruff, a 2019 All-Star who has a star-quality fastball, went 11-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 143 strikeouts in 22 starts for Milwaukee. (He missed six weeks with an oblique injury.) Athlon Sports in its 2020 season preview noted: “Woodruff’s breakout last year was real, and it was spectacular. He allowed one of the lowest barrel rates in baseball while striking out nearly five for every walk … .”
3) How will Hunter Renfroe fare in his new setting, Tampa Bay and the American League East? The former State standout blasted 33 homers last year and 89 in three-plus seasons with San Diego, which traded him for Tommy Pham in a curious move in the off-season. Renfroe, a former first-round draft pick, is just a .235 career hitter (.289 OBP) who strikes out a lot. Pham, also an outfielder, is a better all-around player. The Rays’ motivation for the deal, which also brought them touted prospect Xavier Edwards, was partly financial. But they expect to contend for the postseason, and they’ll expect Renfroe to contribute.
4) What does Brian Dozier have left? The Southern Miss alum signed a minor league deal with San Diego after an uneven 2019 season with Washington. Dozier, only 32, has 192 homers, an All-Star appearance and a Gold Glove on his eight-year MLB resume, but he has faded the last couple of seasons as he moved from Minnesota to the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Nats. He hit .238 with 20 homers a year ago but scarcely played in the postseason. Still, he’s probably the best second baseman in the Padres’ camp.
5) How does Kendall Graveman’s comeback go in Seattle? Graveman, a former State standout, missed most of 2019 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Once the No. 1 starter in Oakland, he hasn’t pitched in the majors since May of 2018. The 29-year-old right-hander, 23-29, 4.38 for his career, is penciled as part of the Mariners’ largely unheralded rotation. “I feel like my stuff has gotten a lot better from right before I got injured …,” Graveman told mlb.com months ago on the eve of spring training. “I’m excited with where it’s at.”
6) What does Year 2 hold for Austin Riley? It was a tale of two seasons in 2019 for the DeSoto Central High alum, who batted .273 with 14 homers in May and June but then crashed, finishing at .226 with 18 long balls. The rookie third baseman/outfielder, who also spent time on the DL late last year, hit just .132 in September and was basically a non-factor down the stretch. Riley entered spring training battling Johan Camargo for the starting job at third. The switch-hitting Camargo might be a better fielder but doesn’t have Riley’s power.
It has only happened 30 times in major league history. First career at-bat. First pitch. Home run. Louisville native Marcus Thames did it on this date in 2002. And he did it against a future Hall of Famer, no less: Randy Johnson. Thames was batting ninth for the New York Yankees before a crowd of 45,000-plus at Yankee Stadium. Johnson was pitching for Arizona in an interleague rematch of the 2001 World Series. Johnson threw a fastball up and over the middle and the right-handed hitting Thames deposited it over the left-center field wall. The two-run bomb in the third inning gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead – yes, Thames got a curtain call from the amped-up crowd — and the Yanks went on to beat the Diamondbacks 7-5. Thames, now the Yankees’ hitting coach, wasn’t drafted out of high school and wasn’t picked until the 30th round out of East Central Community College by the Yankees in 1996. Defying the odds, he went on to play parts of 10 MLB seasons. And that show of power on June 10, 2002, was no fluke. He hit a bunch of big home runs, 115 all told in the big leagues on top of 147 more in the minors. … Other notables on the list of batters to homer on the first pitch they saw: Bert Campaneris, Jay Bell, Kaz Matsui, Starling Marte and Willson Contreras, the last to do it in 2016.
A walk-off home run isn’t just a bomb — it’s “the bomb,” to borrow the cringe-worthy slang of another era. Of the many cool things you miss about baseball, the sudden, exhilarating finality of the game-ending homer rates near the top of the chart. There were 77 walk-off homers in the big leagues in 2019. Mississippians accounted for five of them, and this seems like a good time to relive them. The first was struck on April 9 by Jarrod Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout from McComb. Dyson, not a slugger by any stretch, was sent up as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning for Arizona and surprised a lot of folks when he belted a two-run shot to beat Texas 5-4. It was Dyson’s first career walk-off homer and just the 15th homer of his 10-year career. Walk-off No. 2, Mississippi edition, came on April 26. East Central CC alum Tim Anderson stroked his first career walk-off – punctuated with an award-worthy bat flip – to give the Chicago White Sox a 12-11 win over Detroit. In a much-publicized incident a few days earlier, Anderson had ignited a benches-clearing kerfuffle when he bat-flipped after a mid-game homer against Kansas City. On May 5, Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, got into the walk-off act. Renfroe came up as a pinch hitter for San Diego in the ninth with the bases loaded and his team down a run to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Closer Kenley Jansen was on the bump. Renfroe delivered a 429-foot game-winner, his second career walk-off bomb, and threw his arms up as if signaling a touchdown. Next was Nate Lowe, another State product and a rookie with Tampa Bay. One Sept. 21, in the heat of the American League playoff battle, Lowe slugged a two-run homer in the bottom of the 11th inning to beat Boston 5-4. It was his seventh of the season (and career) and first walk-off. It snatched victory from the Red Sox, who had gone ahead in the top of the inning on a homer by former Bulldogs star Mitch Moreland. Two days after Lowe’s heroics, Petal High product Anthony Alford, playing for Toronto, launched a two-out solo homer in the 15th inning to beat Baltimore 11-10. It was Alford’s first career homer, and he broke out in a huge grin as he rounded the bases. “I was trying to hold my smile as best I could, but it was pretty tough,” he told mlb.com. “It was my first-ever walk-off, so it felt pretty good.” It’s a feeling we’re all missing.