Grae Kessinger, rookie infielder for Houston, watched the first eight games of the Astros’ postseason run from the dugout. The ex-Ole Miss star got quite a different view of the proceedings in the ninth inning Friday night, watching from first base as a pinch runner when Jose Altuve launched a momentum-shifting three-run homer that carried the Astros to a 5-4 win over Texas in a wild, wild Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Kessinger went in at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth and, with two runners on, made a leaping snag of a line drive for the first out. Two outs later Houston had swept the three games at Globe Life Field to go up 3-2 in the best-of-7. The defending champs can earn yet another trip to the World Series with a win in Game 6 at home on Sunday. The grandson of longtime big leaguer Don Kessinger — who never made a postseason appearance in 16 years in The Show — Grae was a midseason call-up by the Astros this year and played sparingly, batting .200 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Houston kept the versatile Kessinger on the postseason roster but didn’t get him into a game before Friday. It was one that won’t soon be forgotten, by Kessinger or anybody else who watched. Before Adolis Garcia’s dramatic three-run homer for Texas in the sixth inning and the benches-clearing kerfuffle he instigated in the eighth, former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe put the Rangers on the board with an opposite-field homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. It was Lowe’s second homer this postseason, and he is now 5-for-19 in the ALCS. … Meanwhile, in Arizona, things got a little wild also in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks, summoning a rally for the second straight day, scored three times in the eighth inning, handing ex-Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel the first blown save of his postseason career and beating Philadelphia 6-5. The series is square at 2-2. The big blow against Kimbrel (now 10-for-11 in saves) was a two-run, game-tying bomb by pinch-hitter Alek Thomas. A subsequent single and walk knocked Kimbrel out of the game, and the go-ahead hit came from Gabriel Moreno against Jose Alvarado. The Phillies struck out three times in the ninth. Of note: Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is slated to be behind the plate for Game 5 tonight at Chase Field, which will feature aces Zack Wheeler and Zac Gallen.
If you could pick a date for your first career major league home run, the Fourth of July might be the perfect choice. Good job, Grae Kessinger. With the home crowd of 39,533 at Houston’s Minute Maid Park in a celebratory mood from the start, former Ole Miss standout Kessinger launched a 397-foot bomb to give the Astros a 1-0 lead in the third inning of a game they’d go on to win 4-1 against Colorado. Kessinger told mlb.com that he jumped on a hanging curveball from Kyle Freeland for the memorable blast: “I got a barrel on it, was able to elevate it and got to enjoy it.” Kessinger, called up by the Astros on June 5, had gotten just 10 at-bats and one hit prior to Tuesday’s game, when he went 2-for-4. He started at shortstop, his first start since June 17. (The world champion Astros’ lineup is tough to crack.) Kessinger hit six homers in 52 games this season at Triple-A Sugar Land and has 33 in his minor league career. He hit 17 in three years at Ole Miss. Grandfather Don, a six-time All-Star shortstop who played 16 years in the majors, hit 14 homers all told. Uncle Keith, another UM product, hit one homer in his 11 games with St. Louis in 1993. P.S. Hunter Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State slugger from Crystal Springs, hit a significant homer on Tuesday. Career bomb No. 172 moved him past Dmitri Young and into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time list of homers by Mississippi natives in the majors. Renfroe has 15 homers this season for the troubled Los Angeles Angels, who lost again on Tuesday, their seventh L in 10 games. … East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson smacked his first triple of 2023 on Tuesday, his first extra-base hit since June 9. The former All-Star still doesn’t have a home run in 251 ABs and is batting .235 for the troubled Chicago White Sox, who lost Tuesday and are 13 games under .500.
Since the calendar flipped to May, Grae Kessinger’s bat has taken off. Now playing for Houston’s Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys, ex-Ole Miss star Kessinger has hit .500 (15-for-30) in seven games this month with two homers, 11 RBIs and a .568 on-base percentage. He went 1-for-3 with two walks on Tuesday, his first game after a five-hit, two-homer effort in a wild contest on Sunday. It didn’t hurt that the first six games of the month were played at Albuquerque, where the ball flies, but you still gotta put bat on ball. He has struck out just five times this month. Kessinger is hitting .311 for the year with four homers and 21 RBIs in 32 games. An All-America shortstop at UM — and the grandson of MLB star Don Kessinger — Grae was drafted in the second round by the Astros in 2019. This is his first season in Triple-A after batting .211 with 16 homers in Double-A in ’22. He has played short, second and third base this season, showing some versatility that can only enhance his value in Houston, where the starting lineup is tough to crack. P.S. After three straight tight wins in the losers bracket of the Gulf South Conference Tournament, Delta State ran smack into a wall on Tuesday, falling to top-seeded West Florida 17-1 at Oxford, Ala. DSU finishes 27-26 in coach Rodney Batts’ fourth season. … In MLB, former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman notched his first save with a clean ninth inning for the Chicago White Sox and fellow ex-Bulldogs ace Chris Stratton earned his first win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings for St. Louis against the Cubs.
There may have been cosmic forces at work on Wednesday in Corpus Christi, Texas. Grae Kessinger, the ex-Ole Miss star and Oxford native, got four hits, including a home run, in a doubleheader for the host Hooks, Houston’s Double-A team. Fifty-eight years ago, on Sept. 7, 1964, Kessinger’s grandfather, ex-Ole Miss star Donnie, made his major league debut, going 1-for-2 for the Chicago Cubs and launching a brilliant 16-year career. The younger Kessinger, in his third pro season, is chasing the big league dream and making some strides. A good-fielding shortstop like his grandfather, Kessinger’s bat has perked up in recent weeks at Corpus Christi. He batted .276 in August and is at .333 in six September games, lifting his season average to .212. (He hit .109 in April.) Kessinger has 15 homers, 48 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in his second Double-A tour. A second-round pick in 2019 after an All-America career at UM, Kessinger has been in the Astros’ big league camp each of the last two springs and played in the Arizona Fall League last year. He is 25 and recently slipped off the Astros’ Top 30 prospect chart, so he may be feeling a sense of urgency as this minor league season draws to a close. P.S. On the topic of hot hitting, Mississippi State product Nathaniel Lowe leads all of MLB in batting average over the last 30 days. He got two more hits, including his 24th homer, for Texas on Wednesday and is batting .383 with eight bombs and 21 RBIs in his last 28 games.
Good story now posted on milb.com about former Ole Miss star Grae Kessinger, now in the Houston Astros’ system, and the legacy he carries. Kessinger, a second-round pick by the Astros in 2019, is the grandson of ex-MLB All-Star Don, nephew of former big leaguer Keith and son of ex-minor leaguer Kevin. Grae leans on that family history. “It’s something that I think motivates me,” he said in the milb.com piece. “I think it motivates me that I know these people in my family, they gave it all they got every single day. They tell me about it and that makes me want to do it even more.” A .283 career hitter in Oxford, he played at two pro levels last summer, batting .224 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 50 games at low Class A Quad Cities. He played mostly shortstop — his UM position — but the 6-foot-2 Oxford native also got work at second and third base last season. He went 0-for-9 with a walk in big league spring action before the shutdown. P.S. Jordan Fowler, a former Ole Miss pitcher who played at Central Missouri this season, signed with Philadelphia for the $20,000 bonus available this year to eligible players not picked in the five-round draft. … The Tupelo Thunder sits atop the Cotton States League standings with a 5-0-1 record, led by Itawamba Community College alum Riley Davis (.538, four RBIs) and Blue Mountain College’s Easton Williams (2-0, 1.12 ERA).