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.

15 Oct

just stuff

As we await Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, let’s take a moment to give a shout-out to the 2013 Mississippi State Bulldogs, an outstanding team that produced two players in this series plus five others who have played in the big leagues. Hunter Renfroe, the pride of Crystal Springs, plays right field for Boston and Kendall Graveman pitches out of the Houston bullpen. They were key members of the 2013 Bulldogs, who, under John Cohen, won 51 games before losing in the College World Series final to UCLA. Also on that club were 2021 MLB All-Stars Brandon Woodruff and Adam Frazier, as well as Jonathan Holder, Jacob Lindgren and Jacob Robson along with several others who played pro ball but never reached the majors. That team was loaded. The sting of coming within two wins of a national title might have been assuaged a bit by the Bulldogs’ run to the championship this year. Maybe. A bit. … That familiar face coaching first base for San Francisco — the face that was covered by both hands after the check-swing call that ended Thursday’s game — belongs to Antoan Richardson, the former Mississippi Braves outfielder. The Giants’ expansive list of coaches got a lot of credit for the team’s surprising success this season. Former M-Braves Tommy LaStella and Alex Wood were part of the team that saw their 109-win season end in the National League Division Series loss to Los Angeles. … Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star Marcus Thames is looking for another job — and likely will find one — after being fired as hitting coach of the New York Yankees. The Yankees made the postseason in each of Thames’ four years on the job, but they had some well-chronicled offensive struggles this season. “At the end of the day, when you sign up to be a coach, sometimes this is what happens,” Thames said in a radio interview. “It’s just another chapter in my book … .” … Former MSU star Buck Showalter has been mentioned as a candidate for the New York Mets and San Diego Padres managerial jobs. Showalter has had success (1,551-1,517-1 career record) with several different MLB clubs. … Ole Miss product Grae Kessinger, an Astros minor leaguer, went 3-for-5 with a home run Thursday for Glendale in the Arizona Fall League. He played at the Double-A level this season. … Robert Carson, the former Hattiesburg High standout and onetime major leaguer, is with the Lexington Legends, who are playing for the Atlantic League championship. Carson has been in the independent league since 2015; the 32-year-old lefty had an 8.00 ERA in 39 games this season but worked two scoreless innings in the Legends’ division series win. The Legends now play Long Island, managed by former Jackson Mets star Wally Backman. The Ducks eliminated Southern Maryland, managed by Jackson’s Stan Cliburn. East Mississippi CC product LeDarious Clark hit .286 with a homer for Cliburn’s Blue Crabs in the division series loss.

13 Oct

moving day

Before former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman took ex-Biloxi Shuckers ace Josh Hader deep for the series-clinching home run, there was a cool all-Mississippi faceoff in Tuesday’s National League Division Series game at Truist Park. Sixth inning. Score tied. Runners first and third. Two outs. Milwaukee summoned Wheeler’s Brandon Woodruff, ordinarily a starter, from the bullpen to face DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley, Atlanta’s cleanup batter. Riley had blasted a 428-foot homer off Woodruff in the Braves’ Game 2 victory, adding to the anticipation of this clash. Woodruff won Tuesday’s battle; on the first pitch, a 97-mph fastball, Riley grounded out to the third baseman. But Riley and the Braves won the war, 5-4 on Freeman’s majestic eighth-inning bomb, and advanced to the NLCS for the second straight year. Woodruff and the Brewers have been in the playoffs four straight years but only once reached the NLCS. Riley went 5-for-15 in the NLDS with a walk, an RBI and three runs and now gets to play some more. … The Chicago White Sox, who had four Mississippi products on their roster, saw their season come to a disappointing end, getting crushed by Houston 10-1 in the decisive Game 4 of their American League Division Series. Tim Anderson, the East Central Community College alum, went 7-for-19 in the series but was 0-for-4 Tuesday. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn got KO’d in his Game 2 start, yielding five runs in 3 2/3 innings. Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet did not allow an earned run in three relief appearances but did allow four of four inherited runners to score, including two in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s game that put the Astros up 5-1. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton never got off the bench in what likely was his last time in a White Sox uniform. … For Houston, ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman threw a scoreless eighth inning but did manage to add to the bad blood between the teams when he plunked Jose Abreu with a pitch. It looked intentional. ChiSox manager Tony LaRussa said it clearly was. Astros manager Dusty Baker said it wasn’t. The matter will be revisited next season, count on that. Meanwhile, Graveman gets to see former MSU teammate Hunter Renfroe in the ALCS, where the Astros will play Boston.

08 Oct

of local interest

It’s just a footnote — but one of significant local interest — on today’s Atlanta-Milwaukee National League Division Series opener. The clubs, meeting for the first time in the postseason, have a rivalry on the Double-A level, where the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers reside. The expected pitching matchups for the first three games feature a former M-Brave vs. a former Shucker: Charlie Morton-Corbin Burnes, Max Fried-Brandon Woodruff and Ian Anderson-Freddy Peralta. No weak links there. Both bullpens are also populated with several pitchers who toiled in the Magnolia State en route to the big leagues, most notably Brewers closer Josh Hader, a nasty left-hander. The Brewers are without setup man (and Shuckers alum) Devin Williams, who broke his hand punching a wall last month after the Brewers clinched the NL Central. Atlanta’s dynamic infield is homegrown: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley all passed through Pearl. By contrast, Milwaukee’s lineup was built with players from other organizations. … There is speculation that catcher Shea Langeliers, a 2021 M-Braves star and Atlanta’s minor league player of the year, could make the NLDS roster. He made the trip to Milwaukee. … The Braves and Brewers split six regular season games in 2021. One stands out. On July 31, the Braves beat Woodruff — with the aid of a bad call. It was 1-1 in the sixth inning at Truist Park when Swanson took an apparent third strike for the second out. Swanson dropped his head and started to walk to the dugout. But the pitch was called a ball. So, of course, Swanson hit the next pitch out of the park for a 3-1 lead, ending Woodruff’s night. The big right-hander glared at home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor as he left the field. … Looking ahead to Game 2, when Mississippi prep products Riley and Woodruff will face off: DeSoto Central alum Riley is 1-for-8 with a walk and two strikeouts against Wheeler High alum Woodruff. … The Braves won a World Series in 1957 when the franchise was located in Milwaukee. The Brewers have been to the Fall Classic once, as an American League team in 1982, falling to St. Louis.

06 Oct

arizona-bound

A wrist injury cost Matt Wallner some valuable time this season. The former Southern Miss star will get to make up some of the missed at-bats in the Arizona Fall League, which starts Oct. 13. Wallner, Minnesota’s 14th-rated prospect by mlb.com, is one of five Mississippi products bound for the AFL, a sort of select league for top minor leaguers. Grae Kessinger, Justin Foscue, James McArthur and Joe Gray Jr. also merited AFL assignments from their respective organizations, as did Shea Langeliers and several other Mississippi Braves alumni. Wallner, a lefty-hitting outfielder, hit .265 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs in 66 games in High-A ball in the Twins’ system; he’ll play for Scottsdale. Ole Miss alum Kessinger, an infielder, batted .209 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and 12 steals in Double-A for Houston. The Astros’ No. 23 prospect will play for Glendale. Ex-Mississippi State standout Foscue, another infielder, batted .275 with 17 homers and 51 RBIs in three levels of Texas’ system. The 2020 draftee is rated the Rangers’ No. 4 prospect; he’s bound for Surprise. McArthur, a right-hander out of Ole Miss, went 2-6 with a 4.48 ERA for Philadelphia’s Double-A club. A 2018 draftee, he’ll pitch for Peoria. Gray, an outfielder from Hattiesburg High, hit .252 with 20 homers, 90 RBIs and 23 steals in A-ball in a long-awaited breakout season in Milwaukee’s chain. The Brewers’ No. 9 prospect is assigned to Salt River. … Langeliers, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect, hit 22 homers and was a stalwart behind the plate for the Double-A South champion M-Braves. He’s on Peoria’s roster.

02 Oct

a good fit

In a lineup packed with attention-grabbing stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien and George Springer, Corey Dickerson has been a quiet but steady contributor for Toronto. The former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College standout went 2-for-4 with a home run Friday night as the Blue Jays beat Baltimore 6-4 to remain in the thick of the battle royale for the two American League wild card berths. Dickerson, who provides a left-handed bat in a largely right-handed order, is batting .333 over his last 15 games, .364 with two homers in his last seven. Toronto traded with Miami for the nine-year veteran, along with reliever Adam Cimber, back in late June. A foot injury kept Dickerson on the injured list until early August. He settled in quickly, driving in two runs in his second game. In 45 games overall for the Jays, he is at .289 with four homers, 15 RBIs and 16 runs. Toronto is tied with Seattle, 1 game back of Boston and 2 behind New York in the wild card standings with two games left on the schedule. Meanwhile, former Mississippi State standout Hunter Renfroe’s 31st homer broke a scoreless deadlock in the sixth inning and propelled Boston to a 4-2 win over Washington. Renfroe has three homers in the past four games. P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn notched his 11th win and East Central CC alum Tim Anderson went 4-for-4 as the playoff-bound Chicago White Sox beat Detroit. … Ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson, in his second game since returning from Tommy John surgery, threw five shutout innings for playoff-bound St. Louis in a win against the Cubs. … Mississippi Braves alum Spencer Strider made his MLB debut for Atlanta on Friday, completing an impressive step-by-step rise from Low-A ball to the big leagues this season. The hard-throwing right-hander, a 2020 draftee, was 3-7, 4.71 ERA for the Double-A M-Braves but demonstrated impressive stuff with 94 strikeouts in 63 innings.

01 Oct

touching the bases

Six Mississippi Braves alumni played roles in Atlanta’s division-clinching 5-3 victory against Philadelphia on Thursday night. Included in that number is ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley, who hit his 33rd homer, and Ian Anderson, who followed fellow M-Braves alums Charlie Morton and Max Fried with a stellar start on the mound. The Braves have won four straight National League East titles under former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker. … Houston clinched the American League West crown by beating Tampa Bay 3-2, with Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman, just back from paternity leave, throwing a perfect eighth inning for his seventh hold in 22 games with the Astros. (There are no Jackson Generals connections remaining with the Astros, but, interestingly enough, there is one in Atlanta. Assistant hitting coach Bobby Magallanes played for the Double-A Gens in 1996.) … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, pitching in the Steel City, tossed seven shutout innings for the Chicago Cubs in a 9-0 win against Pittsburgh. Steele allowed four hits and one walk with seven strikeouts in his ninth — and best — start for the Cubs. He is 4-4 with 4.26 ERA overall as a rookie this year. … MSU alum Brent Rooker belted his ninth homer (in 179 at-bats) in Minnesota’s loss to Detroit. He hit 20 homers in 220 at-bats at Triple-A St. Paul this season. … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn (10-6, 2.72) makes his last start of the regular season today for the Chicago White Sox, who are trying to overtake Houston for home-field edge in the AL Division Series. Ex-State star Dakota Hudson, bidding to make St. Louis’ postseason roster, makes his first start of 2021 today. Coming off 2020 elbow surgery, Hudson notched a win last Friday with 3 2/3 innings of efficient relief in his first appearance this season. … Former Bulldogs ace Ethan Small, pitching at Triple-A Nashville in the Milwaukee system, notched his second win at that level with a five-inning effort against Indianapolis. Small, a 2019 first-round pick, is 2-0, 2.06 in nine starts (35 innings) for the Sounds. … Worth noting again: This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Jackson Mets’ first Texas League title. The ’81 JaxMets, managed by Davey Johnson, featured Marvell Wynne, Mike Fitzgerald, Doug Sisk and Al Pedrique.

30 Sep

meaningful moment

Austin Riley drove in three runs in Atlanta’s win on Wednesday night, and Hunter Renfroe’s 30th homer helped Boston secure a victory. Important contributions in critical games. But the feel-good story of the night from a Mississippi perspective was what happened in a relatively meaningless game in Pittsburgh. Trent Giambrone, a 25th-round draft pick out of Delta State five years ago, delivered a pinch-hit single in his first major league at-bat for the Chicago Cubs. Louisiana native Giambrone, who was not on the 40-man roster, was called up from Triple-A Iowa after fellow infielder Patrick Wisdom was placed on the injured list. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone was not having a good year with the I-Cubs, batting just .174, but the Cubs apparently wanted to reward him for grinding through 493 games in their minor league system. He had some good numbers — 17 homers, 26 steals in the Double-A Southern League in 2018 and 23 bombs with Iowa in 2019 — and was impressive in several spring training trials with the big club. His eighth-inning single Wednesday had teammates in the dugout standing and applauding — a moment Giambrone will always remember. He became the sixth Mississippi product to debut in MLB this season and the ninth Delta State alum to make The Show. Others on that list: Barry Lyons, Stewart Cliburn, Eli Whiteside and Jim Miles (the first in 1968). P.S. Shea Langeliers, fresh off winning a championship with the Mississippi Braves and earning Atlanta’s minor league player of the year honor, made his Triple-A debut on Wednesday. Catching and batting sixth, Langeliers went 0-for-3 with a walk in Gwinnett’s 6-1 win over Jacksonville. He hit .258 with 22 homers for the M-Braves.

27 Sep

raise another flag

The ball rose into the night sky and landed in the glove of C.J. Alexander. The Mississippi Braves third baseman squeezed it for the final out, and after a 13-year wait, the M-Braves’ second league championship was also secured. Gloves and caps flew in the air, and jubilant players rushed to the pitcher’s mound for a group embrace. The M-Braves beat Montgomery 2-1 Sunday in the winner-take-all Game 5 of the Double-A South Championship Series before a small (877 announced) but enthusiastic crowd at Trustmark Park. Atlanta’s Double-A club won the Southern League title in 2008, its only other pennant since moving to Pearl in 2005. Jackson’s Double-A Texas League teams (the Mets and Generals) won a combined five championships during the franchise’s 25-year run (1975-99) at Smith-Wills Stadium. Of all the M-Braves teams over the past 16 years, this one arguably was the best — and not just because it finished with the best record in the league over the course of the season. The roster featured numerous highly rated prospects, most of whom were on the field Sunday. The pitching staff, which finished second in the league in ERA, was thinned of some of its best arms by promotions, but starter Alan Rangel and three relievers delivered on Sunday. Rangel, 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven games with the M-Braves, allowed only three hits and an unearned run in six innings, punching out eight. Alexander delivered a run-scoring double that tied the score at 1-1 in the second inning. Greyson Jenista, batting in the 9-hole, launched his third home run of the series in the fifth to put the M-Braves ahead. It was fitting that a home run would be the crucial hit. The team blasted 143 homers during the season, second-most in the league and far and away the most ever by an M-Braves club. This team battled through the constraints of COVID-19 protocols and endured a midseason managerial change to claim this championship. The ending wasn’t as exhilarating as in 2008 — a walk-off double-steal in the decisive game — but it did have some drama. Center fielder Justin Dean made a spectacular diving catch for the second out of the ninth. The tying run was at second when Nolan Kingham induced the foul pop that landed in Alexander’s glove. It’s often said that the minor leagues are all about player development. But if you witnessed the M-Braves’ celebration Sunday night, you know that’s not really true. Winning matters.

25 Sep

perfect timing

Dakota Hudson returned just in time to have a hand in an historic win by St. Louis on Friday. The Mississippi State product, coming back from elbow surgery a year ago this month, worked 3 2/3 solid innings for the W as the Cardinals beat the Chicago Cubs 12-4 to match the franchise record with 14 straight wins. The Cards won Game 1 of the doubleheader 8-5, beating George County High alum Justin Steele in the process. Surging St. Louis, which blasted eight homers on the day at Wrigley Field, has climbed from 3 games back of the second wild card in the National League to 5 games ahead of that pack. “It was just fun to get out there and compete,” said Hudson, who relieved Jack Flaherty — also making an injury comeback — in the first inning and allowed two runs on four hits with two strikeouts as he pitched through the fourth of the 7-inning game. A former first-round draft pick, Hudson is now 24-10 with a 3.20 ERA since arriving in the big leagues in 2018. … The last Cardinals team to win 14 straight was the Dizzy Dean-led Gas House Gang of 1935. P.S. On a crazy night at Trustmark Park, the Mississippi Braves took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 Double-A South Championship Series with an 11-9 victory against Montgomery. The M-Braves go for the title tonight at the TeePee. Game 3 featured three homers (Drew Lugbauer, Greyson Jenista and C.J. Alexander) by the slugging M-Braves, who built an 11-4 lead with a six-run eighth. The last three outs proved a little hard to come by. It took three pitchers to nail it down in the ninth, when the Biscuits hit two bombs. With what was left of a crowd of about 2,000 screaming for the final out, Nolan Kingham ended it with a controversial strikeout, stranding the tying runs at first and third. He was the last of 12 pitchers who took the mound for the two clubs. There were 24 hits and four errors in the near 4-hour game plus a weird 5-2-6-4-6 double play that featured M-Braves shortstop Braden Shewmake running down two baserunners.