From the Where Did the Time Go Dept.: Charlie Morton, who has signed with Atlanta for 2021, pitched for the Mississippi Braves in 2007, the Double-A club’s third year in Pearl. The 37-year-old right-hander is the lone player from any of those first three teams still in the majors. A somber reminder of what a fleeting thing a pro baseball career truly is. The ’07 M-Braves’ roster also included Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Matt Harrison, Jo-Jo Reyes, Brandon Jones, Joey Devine and Brent Lillibridge, among other future big leaguers. Managed by Phillip Wellman, the ’07 M-Braves made the Southern League playoffs for the first time. Morton was not a real standout that year, going 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA mostly as a reliever, but he did throw a gem in the playoffs. He debuted with Atlanta in 2008, then was traded the next year. Morton’s MLB career really didn’t take off until 2017, when he helped Houston win the World Series. He nearly won another ring with Tampa Bay this season. He can help the Braves in what likely will be his final season.
Eleven years ago today, Chris Coghlan became the first and so far only Mississippi native or college alumnus to win an MLB rookie of the year award. Coghlan, a former Ole Miss star, claimed the trophy with the Florida Marlins in 2009. He is one of only three Magnolia State natives or college alums to win one of baseball’s three big individual player awards. Grenada native Dave Parker won the National League MVP trophy in 1978, and Meridian Community College product Cliff Lee was the American League’s Cy Young Award winner in 2008. … Former Mississippi minor league players raked in a nice haul of awards this year, including former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman winning NL MVP and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams NL rookie of the year. Williams also won the league’s Trevor Hoffman Award as reliever of the year. Freeman won a Silver Slugger, as did M-Braves alum Ronald Acuna. Former M-Braves pitcher Max Fried and ex-Shuckers outfielder Trent Grisham, who plays for San Diego, picked up Gold Gloves. … Freeman is the first M-Braves product to win an MVP but not the first former Jackson area Double-A player to do so. Former Jackson Mets star Kevin Mitchell was NL MVP in 1989 with San Francisco, narrowly beating out former Mississippi State star and Giants teammate Will Clark. The M-Braves have produced two rookies of the year, Acuna in 2018 and Craig Kimbrel in 2011, and Jackson Mets alum Darryl Strawberry took that honor in 1983. Mike Scott, a former JaxMets pitcher, won the Cy Young Award in 1986.
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.
Thirteen years ago, fans of the Mississippi Braves got a glimpse of the pitcher Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash calls a “postseason stud.” They enjoyed a preview performance from the pitcher columnist Mike Lupica recently hailed as Big Game Charlie Morton. Morton is the Rays’ starter for Game 3 of the World Series tonight. Now 36 years old, he has battled through myriad injuries to become a very effective pitcher, with 93 wins and a 4.08 ERA over 13 seasons. In the postseason, he has been even better. He is 7-2 overall and 3-0 this year, including a win in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series against Houston. In 2017, pitching for the Astros, he won Game 7 in the ALCS and won another Game 7 in the World Series, beating the Dodgers with a four-inning relief effort. That’s when he picked up the nickname “Charlie Freakin’ Morton,” which has become a popular t-shirt slogan. Morton credits his postseason success to being “more anxious,” having “a little more energy” or “extra adrenaline.” Whatever it might be, M-Braves fans witnessed it firsthand back in 2007, on Sept. 7 to be precise, in Game 2 of the Southern League South Division playoffs. Morton had very modest numbers that season, his sixth in Atlanta’s system, going 4-6, 4.29 working as both a starter and reliever. With the M-Braves down 1-0 in the best-of-5 series against Montgomery, Morton got the call to start Game 2 at Trustmark Park. It was his first postseason start as a pro. Facing future big leaguer Jake McGee, Morton was brilliant, yielding just three hits and two walks while fanning eight over seven innings. He left with a 3-1 lead, which reliever Sung Ki Jung squandered in the eighth. A five-run response won the game for the M-Braves. Pitching coach Derek Botelho said postgame that Morton might have altered the direction of his career with that big-game effort. He made the big leagues the next year. P.S. Former Mississippi State standout Adam Frazier is a Gold Glove finalist at second base in the National League. Frazier, in his fifth MLB season with Pittsburgh, committed only one error in 41 games and ranked second in the league in fielding percentage (.994), double plays and assists. Other finalists include former M-Braves Max Fried, Dansby Swanson, Ronald Acuna and Jason Heyward and Biloxi Shuckers alum Trent Grisham. … M-Braves product Freddie Freeman was the Players Choice Awards winner for 2020 Player of the Year and NL Outstanding Player.
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.
Cristian Pache gave Atlanta fans something to feel good about on Wednesday night, hitting his first career big league home run in an otherwise desultory Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. The former Mississippi Braves standout may also have sent fans of the old Jackson Generals on a trip down memory lane. Pache, who had four at-bats in the regular season, became just the seventh player to hit his first career homer in the postseason and the first position player to do so since Melvin Mora in 1999. Mora, who came through Houston’s Venezuelan pipeline in the early ’90s, spent parts of two seasons with the Double-A Generals, batting .298 for the ’95 team and .286 for the ’96 club that won a Texas League title. A versatile infielder, Mora left Houston as a minor league free agent and signed with the New York Mets in 1998. He debuted in the majors in ’99 and shined in the NLCS against the Braves. In addition to hitting his first homer – off Kevin Millwood in a Game 2 loss – Mora had five other hits, drove in two runs, scored three and stole two bases as New York fell in six games. The Mets ultimately dealt Mora to Baltimore, where he blossomed into a two-time All-Star. He batted .277 with 171 homers over 13 seasons, playing until he was 39. The 21-year-old Pache, a Dominican Republic native, can only hope for a career that good, though there is much promise. He is the Braves’ top prospect, having drawn comps to Andruw Jones, and likely will be their center fielder next season. He spent parts of the ’18 and ’19 seasons with the M-Braves, hitting .274 with 12 homers in 133 games. M-Braves faithful might remember Pache’s performance from June 15, 2019, the night of Dallas Keuchel’s tuneup appearance. Pache hit a game-tying homer in the seventh inning – the final scheduled inning – and threw out a runner at the plate in the eighth. The M-Braves went on to win.
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.
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.
Among the flood of pitchers who have toed the rubber at Trustmark Park en route to the big leagues, Ian Anderson achieved a special distinction. He had a hand in one of the three no-hitters hurled by Mississippi Braves pitchers during the Double-A club’s first 15 years in Pearl. The right-hander, now Atlanta’s No. 2 starter, worked the first seven innings of a combo no-no (with Jeremy Walker) in June of 2019. And Anderson worked his magic on a special night in front of a big crowd: The M-Braves wore throwback Jackson Generals uniforms, honoring the old Double-A franchise that played at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1975-99. M-Braves fans might remember Anderson, with his distinctive, over-the-top delivery, as a good — if not great — pitcher. He went 7-5 with a 2.68 ERA over 19 starts in 2019. Since getting the call to Atlanta in late August, Anderson has been even better: 3-2, 1.95 in the regular season. He shut down the New York Yankees in his MLB debut and handcuffed Cincinnati in Game 2 of the wild card series. He goes today in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against Miami, with the Braves up 1-0. Braves fans should be enthused. Here’s what Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci recently wrote: “Anderson, 22, is the difference-maker, capable of reshaping what you thought you knew about this postseason the way rookie Michael Wacha of the (St. Louis) Cardinals did in 2013.” Wacha went 4-1, 2.64 in five postseason starts for the World Series team. P.S. Another former M-Braves hurler, Charlie Morton, starts for Tampa Bay against the Yankees tonight in Game 3 of that division series. Morton had a down year: 2-2, 4.74 ERA. … Baseball Digest’s annual awards had a distinct Mississippi flavor, with former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman earning player of the year honors and Biloxi Shuckers alum Devin Williams tabbed as reliever of the year. Freeman batted .341 with 13 home runs, 53 RBIs and an MLB-leading 51 runs scored for National League East champion Atlanta. Freeman passed through Trustmark Park in 2009 – arriving in July in tandem with Jason Heyward – and hit .248 with two homers and 22 RBIs in 41 games, missing part of the season with an injury. Williams, a rookie, had a breakout campaign for Milwaukee, finishing with an 0.33 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 27 innings, leading all relievers. He pitched for Biloxi in 2019, going 7-2 with four saves and a 2.70 ERA in 31 relief appearances. Williams joined the Braves’ Anderson on MLB Pipeline’s all-rookie team for 2020. … Ole Miss alum and Mississippi resident Andy Fletcher was behind home plate for Tuesday’s Atlanta-Miami game, which produced some drama after Ronald Acuna, who belted a leadoff homer, was hit by a pitch in his second at-bat.
Corey Dickerson has had a down year by his standards, but the Miami Marlins have had an unexpectedly good year — and as a result, the McComb native is going to the postseason for the first time in his eight-year MLB career. Miami, pegged for a last-place finish in the National League East, clinched second place in the division with a 4-3 win against the New York Yankees on Friday night. Dickerson, who signed with the Marlins as a free agent in the off-season, is batting .259 with seven homers and 16 RBIs in 51 games. He hit .304 in 2019, playing with Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and is a .284 career hitter with 122 homers. The former Meridian Community College star, 31, was a veteran presence for a Marlins team that was hit hard by a COVID-19 outbreak at the start of this truncated season. … Elsewhere on an eventful Friday night: Former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman may have had his MVP moment when he launched an 11th-inning walk-off homer for Atlanta, which clinched the No. 2 seed in the NL playoffs. Freeman’s blast upstaged Ronald Acuna’s. The M-Braves alum hit a 495-foot homer, the longest in MLB this season, to lead off the Braves’ first inning. It was Acuna’s 19th career leadoff bomb in three seasons. … Former Biloxi Shuckers standout Trent Grisham hit a seventh-inning walk-off home run, giving San Diego a win against San Francisco in the second game of a twinbill. It was Grisham’s 10th homer and it saved Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz from taking a loss. Pomeranz gave up a three-run homer in the sixth inning that put the Padres behind. Those were the first runs allowed all season by the big left-hander in 20 appearances. The playoff-bound Padres have clinched the No. 4 seed in the NL. P.S. There’s much more at stake tonight in the NL, and no game is more significant than Milwaukee-St. Louis. Ex-Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, the Brewers’ No. 1, faces St. Louis’ longtime ace, Adam Wainwright. Both teams are still grappling for a playoff berth. Woodruff is 2-5 with a 3.43 ERA, Wainwright 5-2, 3.05. Woodruff, who went 11-3, 3.62 and made the All-Star Game in 2019, has not had the type of season that was expected of him. He’s 0-2 in four September starts. Win today, and that’ll be forgotten. Several Cardinals have had success against Woodruff in limited at-bats. Paul DeJong is 3-for-9 with a homer, Brad Miller 2-for-6 with a homer and Paul Goldschmidt 3-for-12. Tyler O’Neill also has taken Woodruff deep.