21 Oct

on the brink

The frustration the Boston Red Sox experienced on Wednesday night can be captured in one at-bat in the bottom of the fifth inning. Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe was up with the Red Sox down 1-0, two runners on, no outs. The Crystal Springs native, who had 31 homers and 96 RBIs this season, got ahead in the count 2-0. Was it his time? No. Houston starter Framber Valdez threw his signature sinker, and Renfroe rolled into a 6-4-3 double play. The next batter, Alex Verdugo, also bounced out. Boston got nothing, and the Astros then blew up for five runs in the sixth en route to a 9-1 victory that puts them ahead 3-2 in the American League Championship Series that heads back to Houston. Valdez was brilliant over eight innings, limiting the Red Sox to three hits. The Sox had just five hits in a 9-2 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday. Several of Boston’s big bats have gone cold. Kyle Schwarber is batting .143 in the series, Xander Bogaerts .227, Verdugo .235. Renfroe’s slump has been particularly pronounced. He is 1-for-14 (.071) with one RBI, that coming in Game 1. He was 0-for-3 with a strikeout and two GIDPs in Game 5. Surely, he is frustrated, as are his teammates, but he is not down, said DH J.D. Martinez. “I think Hunter’s been even-keeled all year,” he said in a nesn.com story. “I don’t see him down at all. You know, he is still going up there. He puts up tough at-bats.” Backs to the wall, the Red Sox need some of those tough at-bats to produce hits and runs. P.S. Unsung hero in Atlanta’s crucial Game 4 win in the National League Championship Series: A.J. Minter. The former Mississippi Braves left-hander (2016-17) pitched two near-perfect innings in middle relief in the Braves’ 9-2 win against Los Angeles. Minter pitched the sixth and seventh innings when the lead was a precarious 5-2 and threw 16 of 22 pitches for strikes. He yielded just one hit. With ace Max Fried, another ex-M-Braves standout, starting tonight in Game 5, the Braves, up 3-1, have to feel they’re in pretty good shape.

11 Oct

only in baseball

Thanks to Rule 5.05(a)(8), Hunter Renfroe’s place in postseason history is secure. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State standout will forever be linked to the quirky rule that had a major impact in Sunday’s American League Division Series game at Boston. In the 13th inning, with the go-ahead run at first base and two outs, a batted ball hit the short right-field wall at Fenway Park, caromed off the hip of Renfroe, the right fielder who was giving pursuit, and then went over the wall. For a few moments, confusion reigned. Apparently, no one involved had ever seen this happen before. Fenway is one of the few ballparks where something like that is even possible. Had the ball remained in play, the runner would have scored easily and the batter, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier, likely would have made third. But the umpires got together and correctly applied Rule 5.05(a)(8), which states that a bounding fair ball unintentionally deflected out of play by a fielder is a ground-rule double. That put the runners at second and third. The score remained tied. Fair or not, the rule is the rule. Nick Pivetta then struck out the next batter, concluding his four shutout innings. In the bottom of the 13th, after Renfroe drew a one-out walk, Christian Vazquez gave Boston a 6-4 win and a 2-1 series lead with a homer over the Green Monster. … Meanwhile, in Chicago, in the other ALDS Game 3, things got a little wacky, as well, as the White Sox rallied from 5-1 down in the third inning to beat Houston 12-6 and stay alive in the best-of-5. The White Sox’s decisive three-run fourth was ignited by — who else? — Tim Anderson. The East Central Community College star led off with an infield single and eventually scored the go-ahead run. (And, yes, there was a quirky deflected-ball play later in that inning.) For his part, Anderson went 3-for-6 with two runs and an RBI Sunday and is now batting .467 in the series. … There are four games on tap today. Something crazy, something you’ve never seen before, is almost guaranteed to happen. That’s baseball.

07 Oct

eye on …

Lance Lynn gets the start for Chicago in today’s American League Division Series opener, which arguably is the most important game in a best-of-5. Lynn may have gone to Ole Miss, but the big right-hander is a bulldog on the mound. He went 11-6 with a 2.69 ERA for the White Sox this season, working 157 innings in 28 starts, and was considered a Cy Young Award candidate at one point. “He’s going to come at you,” White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal told the Chicago Tribune, “he’s going to pressure you and you’d better be ready when he’s on the mound.” Lynn’s one appearance against Houston did not go well: six runs in four innings back in June. Expect him to use that as motivation. Lynn has a wealth of postseason experience, having pitched in 26 games going back to his rookie year of 2011, when he won a ring as a reliever with St. Louis. Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, will lead off the game for the White Sox; he was hot down the stretch and went 9-for-14 in his first MLB postseason in 2020. Ocean Springs High alum Garrett Crochet, a lefty reliever, and Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton, a reserve outfielder, could also play valuable roles for Chicago. But Lynn is the one to watch today. …
Hunter Renfroe feasted (.338, four homers, 18 RBIs) on Tampa Bay pitching this season, perhaps motivated by the fact the Rays cut him loose after last season. The ex-Mississippi State standout, who batted .259 with 31 homers and 96 RBIs in 2021, will be somewhere in the middle of Boston’s lineup — and in right field — in tonight’s ALDS. Renfroe has limited postseason experience, but he hit two homers for the Rays last fall during their run to the World Series and went 1-for-3 in the pressure-cooker AL Wild Card Game vs. New York on Monday. He brings game-changing power, even in a pitcher’s park like Tropicana Field.

04 Oct

these are the moments

The regular season is a wrap. Before the second season starts, here’s a tip of the cap to the best moments of 2021 by a Mississippian in the majors:
Best hit: Tim Anderson’s walk-off home run in the inaugural Field of Dreams Game on Aug. 12. The former East Central Community College star’s blast into the Iowa cornfield will endure as one of the great moments in this or any season.
Best pitch: Spencer Turnbull’s final fastball to Mitch Hanigar, which produced a swing and a miss and completed the Madison Central High product’s no-hitter on May 18. The no-no was the first ever in MLB by a Mississippian (native or school alum).
Best throw: Hunter Renfroe’s laser from deep center field to nail a runner at third base for the final out in a 2-1 Boston win on Sept. 8. It was the second assist of the game for the former Mississippi State star, who also homered to put the Red Sox ahead.
Best debut: Nick Fortes, who singled in his first career at-bat on Sept. 18, hit a home run in his second AB later in that game. The ex-Ole Miss standout was one of six Mississippians who debuted in 2021. Worth noting: George County High alum Justin Steele struck out the first batter he faced, and Delta State alum Trent Giambrone got a pinch-hit single in his first at-bat.

09 Sep

in select company

In his first season with Boston, Hunter Renfroe is rubbing elbows (virtually, of course) with Red Sox legends. In a jaw-dropping performance on Wednesday night at Fenway Park, in the heat of the battle for playoff spots, former Mississippi State star Renfroe hit a game-turning home run and made a game-ending throw. The Red Sox beat division rival Tampa Bay 2-1 and moved into first place – ahead of New York – in the American League wild card race. Renfroe, cut loose by the Rays after the 2020 season, launched a two-run homer in the eighth inning to put the Sox ahead. “There’s your magic, baby,” screamed one of the Boston broadcasters. There was more to come. In the ninth, Renfroe scrambled into deep center field to run down a ball hit by Joey Wendle and fired a cannon shot to nail Wendle at third base to end the game. It was the second assist of the night for Renfroe, who has 16 on the season, the most by a Boston right fielder since at least 1961, per mlb.com. Move over Dwight Evans. Renfroe’s homer was his 27th. He is just the sixth player in Boston’s long history with 25-plus homers and 15-plus assists in a season, again per mlb.com. Others on the list: Jason Bay, Manny Ramirez, Jim Rice, Carl Yastrzemski and Ted Williams. Renfroe is batting .267 and slugging .515 with 85 RBIs. He has 12 bombs since Aug. 1. “What he’s done for us this season, it’s been amazing,” manager Joey Cora said in an mlb.com piece. P.S. In other impactful games, MSU product Adam Frazier, in need of some big hits, went 2-for-4 with three RBIs in San Diego’s 8-5 win against the Los Angeles Angels. In a funk since joining the Padres at the trade deadline, Frazier doubled his RBI total and raised his average to .235 in 35 games with his new club, which is clinging to second in the National League wild card chase. … At Yankee Stadium, in red-hot Toronto’s 6-3 win over the skidding Yankees, Jarrod Dyson did what Jarrod Dyson do: The McComb native entered the game late as a pinch runner, scored on a sac fly and then ended the game with a diving catch in center field. The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by 1.5 games for the second AL wild card.

25 Aug

have a day, y’all

It’s a long way from the quaint little ballfield at Copiah Academy to the glorious green cathedral that is Fenway Park — and not just in miles. But you can go the distance. Hunter Renfroe is living, home run-bashing proof of that. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State star crushed two homers over the Green Monster on Tuesday, powering the Boston Red Sox to a big 11-9 win over Minnesota. With an MLB-leading 10 homers in August, Renfroe now has 25 on the season, matching his career-best. He is having a resurgent season, batting .256 with 77 RBIs in his first year with the Red Sox, who are feverishly chasing an American League playoff berth. “Yeah, this is what I expect myself to do every year and even better most of the time,” Renfroe, a .234 career hitter with 122 homers in 546 games, said in an mlb.com article. Renfroe was not the only Mississippi-produced star who shined brightly on a Tuesday filled with compelling matchups. To wit: DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, who leads the all-Mississippi home run derby with 27, went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run for Atlanta in a tough loss to the New York Yankees in an interleague meeting of first-place teams. Former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson went yard for Toronto, which suffered a hurtful loss to the Chicago White Sox. Dickerson has three homers and nine RBIs in 18 games since joining the Blue Jays. Mitch Moreland, ex-Amory High and MSU star, had two hits and an RBI for Oakland in a loss to Seattle in a game between postseason contenders. Former State standout Nate Lowe put up a career-best five hits, including his 13th homer, as Texas beat Cleveland. Lowe had not homered since July 1. And Petal High product Anthony Alford, fresh off the injured list, hit his first home run of the year for Pittsburgh. Alford, playing well in Triple-A when the Pirates brought him back up for another trial, is batting .163 in 17 big league games in 2021. Said Alford in an mlb.com story: “I’ve just got to find a way to persevere.” These days, don’t we all. P.S. Southern Miss alumnus Cody Carroll has signed a minor league contract with Miami and was assigned to the Marlins’ Florida Complex League team. The 28-year-old onetime major league pitcher was released by Baltimore from its Triple-A team earlier this month.

26 Jun

friday at fenway

If you’re gonna have a moment in the big leagues, there’s no better place to do it than Fenway Park during a Yankees-Red Sox game on a Friday night. Hunter Renfroe, the former Mississippi State standout, earned a spot in Boston lore on an electric night that featured a packed house of 36,000-plus and a pregame tribute to Dustin Pedroia. Renfroe drove in two runs, scored one and cut down a runner at the plate with a sizzling throw in the Red Sox’s 5-3 win, their fourth in as many games against New York this season. “Obviously, this is the thing you live for,” the Crystal Springs native said in an mlb.com story. “These are the games you live for.” Renfroe is in his first season with the Red Sox after being unceremoniously cut loose by Tampa Bay after a down year in 2020. He started slowly but has picked it up of late, batting .308 with four homers and 17 RBIs in his last 30 games. He was 4-for-10 in Boston’s sweep at Yankee Stadium earlier this month. On Friday, his stamp was all over the place. He doubled in a run to cap a three-run first inning and hit a sac fly to make it 4-3 in the third. In the top of the fourth, the Yankees’ Gio Urshela tried to score from second on a single to right field. Bad idea. Renfroe’s 94.7 mph throw covered 190 feet on the fly — per Statcast — and nailed Urshela by five feet. Fenway went wild. Renfroe now has 11 assists, best in the majors. He has 41 career assists. Renfroe capped his night by scoring after drawing a walk in the eighth, stretching the Red Sox’s lead. “I’ve been saying Friday nights at Fenway are cool,” Boston manager Alex Cora told mlb.com. “They’re pretty cool, and it was another great atmosphere.” They’ll play again today. Renfroe probably can’t wait.

14 Dec

feed the monster

The Green Monster beckons for Hunter Renfroe. The former Mississippi State standout has signed as a free agent with Boston, where the iconic left-field wall has been an inviting target for many a right-handed slugger. Renfroe, 28, who reportedly got a 1-year deal worth $3 million-plus, hit two of his eight homers in 2020 at Fenway on Aug. 13 while playing for Tampa Bay. One of those bombs cleared the Monster. Renfroe has 97 homers in an MLB career that began in 2016. He hit just .156 for the Rays this season, dragging his career average down to .228. A good defender, he could be a fit in right or left field for Boston. The Red Sox actually drafted Renfroe in the 31st round in 2010 out of Copiah Academy, but he chose to go to State, where he became a first-rounder with San Diego in 2013.

14 Oct

shining moment

In the midst of a humble postseason, his first in the majors, Hunter Renfroe took a star turn on Tuesday night and is now on the brink of a World Series trip. The former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs hit a two-run double and made two sparkling catches in right field to help Tampa Bay beat Houston 5-2 and go up 3-0 in the American League Championship Series. Renfroe was 1-for-10 in the 2020 postseason when he stepped in as a pinch hitter in the sixth inning at San Diego. He hit an opposite-field flare that dropped into right field and plated two runs, capping the Rays’ game-turning five-run inning. Renfroe stayed in the game as the right fielder and made lunging, run-saving catches in the seventh and eighth innings. He came up with the Padres and played many innings in right at Petco Park, though he was known more for his arm than his glove. “I feel really comfortable here, as far as playing the outfield,” Renfroe said in an mlb.com piece. “I knew, right away, what these balls were going to do.” Renfroe’s only other postseason hit was a grand slam against Toronto in the wild card round. He batted just .156 in the regular season but had a knack for productive swings. Of his 19 hits, 13 were for extra bases, and he drove in 22 runs in 42 games. P.S. So, how productive has Atlanta’s farm system been in recent years? Consider this evidence: In Game 3 of the National League Championship Series today, the Braves’ nine-man lineup included seven players who suited up for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. And the starting pitcher, Kyle Wright, also did time at Trustmark Park, as did the starters in Games 1 and 2. More than 150 players have advanced to the big leagues through Pearl since 2005. The Los Angeles Dodgers started four players who came up through their system, plus the starting pitcher, in today’s game.

14 Aug

powering up?

One of the ironies of Tampa Bay’s strong start – the Rays (12-8) just put up 42 runs in a four-game sweep at Boston – is that Hunter Renfroe, acquired for his power, hadn’t provided a whole lot before flexing some on Thursday. The former Mississippi State star hit two bombs in the 17-8 rout, his first homers since July 27. After going 4-for-11 in two starts at Fenway Park, Renfroe is batting .200 with four homers and 14 RBIs on the season. He picked up five of his RBIs in the Red Sox series. Both of Renfroe’s homers on Thursday were impressive, one to right-center, the other yanked way over the Green Monster in left. “It’s pretty cool,” Renfroe said, in an mlb.com story, about clearing the Monster. “Obviously this is a historic field and a beautiful field, just to kind of check that off my home run list of stadiums to hit one (in) is pretty cool.” He hit 89 homers in three-plus years with San Diego. He’s about due to go off. The Rays play Toronto in Buffalo this weekend. There were eight homers at Sahlen Field, the converted minor league facility, on Wednesday. P.S. Chad Smith, drafted by Miami out of Ole Miss in 2016, has been traded to Colorado and will move from the Marlins’ alternate training site to the Rockies’. He’s not going on the 40-man roster. Smith, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, went 4-4 with a 4.22 ERA in his one year in Oxford after transferring from an Alabama juco. He has a 4.46 ERA in four minor league seasons, reaching Double-A Jacksonville of the Southern League last year.