There was another celebration in MLB on Sunday — the fifth in a seven-day stretch — when Cleveland clinched the American League Central with a 10-4 win at Texas. Former Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty, one of the record 16 rookies to suit up for Guardians in their title run, threw two scoreless innings in relief, trimming his ERA to 4.28 over 11 appearances. Fellow rookie Konnor Pilkington, the Mississippi State product, wasn’t on the active roster Sunday but also contributed this season, as did ex-USM standout Nick Sandlin, a second-year player who was in uniform and in the clubhouse for the after-party. … MSU alum Kendall Graveman took the loss against Detroit for the Chicago White Sox, whose sixth straight defeat officially eliminated them from the AL Central race. The ChiSox, the preseason favorite in the division, are still in the wild card chase but barely. … Seattle, an AL wild card contender, blew a nine-run lead and lost to Kansas City 13-12. Ex-State star Adam Frazier went 1-for-2 with an RBI for the Mariners but was on the bench when the Royals scored 11 runs in the sixth inning. … Milwaukee, bidding for a National League playoff berth, saw its five-game win streak snapped in a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati. Former MSU standout Hunter Renfroe’s 28th homer accounted for the Brewers’ lone run. He homered and drove in five runs all told in a 10-2 win on Saturday. … Don Mattingly is out as Miami manager after this season, which means former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames, the Marlins’ first-year hitting coach, probably will be out, as well. Miami has scuffled with the bats this season. P.S. Last week was filled with memorable events in addition to the postseason clinchings, and Mississippians were front-and-center for several. When the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge hit his 60th homer on Tuesday, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes — an ex-Yankee — was in the house after a first-pitch ceremony with his son Ke’Bryan Hayes, Pittsburgh’s third baseman. Ex-MSU star Buck Showalter, the Mets manager, sarcastically called for the ball when his club suffered its MLB-record 106th hit batsman on Wednesday. When Albert Pujols hit home runs No. 699 and 700 for St. Louis on Friday, Mississippi college products Dakota Hudson, Chris Stratton and Corey Dickerson, fellow Cardinals, had front-row seats at Dodger Stadium.
Being in must-win mode, Milwaukee must feel pretty good today with Brandon Woodruff going to the mound at Cincinnati. The former Mississippi State star from Wheeler is coming off one of his best starts of 2022, a 4-1 win against the mighty New York Yankees on Saturday, and is 2-0 with a 1.71 ERA in his last three starts. The Brewers aren’t likely to catch St. Louis in the National League Central — they’re 7.5 games back — but they are just 2.5 games back of Philadelphia for the final wild card berth. Woodruff (11-4, 3.26) worked eight innings against the Yankees, allowing five hits and one walk while fanning 10. He got Giancarlo Stanton four times and Aaron Judge once. Judge, the likely MVP of the American League, said Woodruff’s combination of fastballs and off-speed stuff “makes for a tough day trying to pick your poison.” Woodruff should have his way with lowly Cincinnati, even at the hitter’s haven that is Great American Ballpark. The Reds will counter with the flame-throwing Hunter Greene (4-12, 4.97). … At Chicago on Wednesday, the White Sox — also in must-win mode — were counting on a strong outing from ex-Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn against Cleveland, but they didn’t get it. Lynn was knocked around for six runs (three earned) in six innings as the ChiSox lost to the Guardians 8-2. Chicago fell 6 games back of first-place Cleveland in the AL Central, and Lynn fell to 7-6, 4.02.
It didn’t take long into his big league career for Matt Wallner to do what Matt Wallner does: go yard. The former Southern Miss slugger, called up from the minors by Minnesota today, hit a 414-foot home run against Cleveland’s Shane Bieber in his third at-bat. Wallner is USM’s career home run leader and has 50 minor league bombs on his three-year pro ledger, including 27 this year split between Double-A and Triple-A. He also crushed a homer in the All-Star Futures Game in July. Wallner becomes the 25th Mississippian to play in the majors in 2022 and the fifth to make his debut, the third from USM. (The other rookies are Ethan Small, Konnor Pilkington, Kirk McCarty and Chuckie Robinson.) … St. Louis recalled ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson from a brief hiatus in the minors to start against Cincinnati today, and the right-hander threw eight innings, allowing one unearned run, and departed with a comfortable lead. Hudson had a 7-7 record entering today’s game.
Friday was a banner day for ex-Mississippi State stars in the big leagues and the minors. Start in Milwaukee, where Bulldogs alumnus Hunter Renfroe led off the ninth inning with a double and eventually scored the walk-off run in a 7-6 victory against the New York Yankees. (Garrett Mitchell, a rookie who spent most of this season at Double-A Biloxi, got the winning knock for the Brewers, clinging to hope in the National League wild card race.) Move to St. Louis, where Chris Stratton threw three pitches, got one key out and notched the win for the Cardinals, who are closing in on the NL Central title. Stratton got the final out of the seventh inning with two runners on base and St. Louis rallied in the bottom half to go ahead and ultimately beat Cincinnati 6-5. Stratton is 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA since he joined the Cards in August and has a 1.29 in his last seven appearances. At Tampa Bay, Nathaniel Lowe blasted his 25th homer to help also-ran Texas beat the wild card-chasing Rays 4-3. Tampa Bay is third in the American League wild card standings, behind Toronto and Seattle. … Down in the minors: Justin Foscue homered and drove in four runs as Frisco, Texas’ Double-A club, clinched the second-half title in the Texas League South; Jordan Westburg went 5-for-5 with his 17th homer for Triple-A Norfolk (Baltimore), his 26th overall this season; and Brent Rooker smacked his fifth homer for Triple-A Omaha (Kansas City), his 24th all told in the minors this season.
Four Mississippi products, each having battled injuries this season, are on the preliminary rosters for the Arizona Fall League, the select circuit for minor league prospects. Mississippi State alums Will Bednar and J.T. Ginn, ex-Southern Miss star Reed Trimble and former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith are slotted to play in the six-team AFL, which starts its season on Oct. 3. Bednar, the MVP of the 2021 College World Series and the 14th overall pick in the ’21 draft by San Francisco, is 1-3 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 games at the Low-Class A level. Ginn, a second-round pick in 2020, has made 10 starts this year in Double-A in Oakland’s system, posting a 1-4, 6.11 ledger. Ginn was traded by the New York Mets to the A’s for Chris Bassitt during spring training. Trimble, an outfielder and 2021 draftee, is hitting .291 in Low-A ball for Baltimore. Keith, drafted in 2020 by Detroit, hit .301 with nine homers in an abbreviated season at High-A. He was Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2019. Among Atlanta’s AFL contingent are current Mississippi Braves Justyn-Henry Malloy and Allan Winans. They’ll be with the Scottsdale team, along with Trimble and Bednar. Ginn will go to Mesa and Keith to Salt River. The rosters could change before or during the season. A bevy of Top 100 overall prospects are scheduled to participate, including four of MLB Pipeline’s Top 20.
Former Petal High star Anthony Alford has fit in nicely with the KT Wiz of the Korean Baseball Organization. Alford, a onetime big leaguer who played two games for Pittsburgh this season, is batting .268 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs for KT. … Ole Miss product and ex-major leaguer Jacob Waguespack is 2-6 with four saves, five holds and a 3.19 ERA in 27 appearances for Orix in Japan’s Pacific League. … Ex-UM standout and Picayune native Braxton Lee leads the independent Atlantic League in triples with nine and is batting .306 with 73 RBIs, 60 runs and 19 steals for playoff-bound Southern Maryland. The Blue Crabs are managed by Jackson native Stan Cliburn. … Jacob Robson, the Mississippi State alum who had a cup of coffee in the majors in 2021, is playing for the independent Kansas City Monarchs, who are in the semifinals of the American Association playoffs. Robson, a former Detroit farmhand, hit .278 with nine homers, 34 RBIs and nine steals for the Monarchs. His teammates include Mississippi Braves alum Mallex Smith and Casey Gillaspie, son of ex-MSU star Mark Gillaspie. … Former Hattiesburg High star and ex-big league pitcher Robert Carson is the pitching coach for the independent Quebec Capitales, who are in the Frontier League title series. … Colt Keith, the ex-Biloxi High standout, has been given an Arizona Fall League assignment by Detroit. Keith, a highly regarded third base prospect, hit .301 with nine homers at High-Class A West Michigan but didn’t play after June 10 because of a shoulder injury. The AFL season begins Oct. 3. More roster assignments will be announced in the coming days. P.S. Props to Ole Miss product Will Ethridge, who threw five shutout innings on Wednesday night to notch his first Double-A win for Hartford in the Colorado system. Ethridge, a 2019 draftee, is 1-1, 3.42 ERA, in seven games for the Yard Goats. He was 5-6, 5.65, in A-ball.
Time for Atlanta to make room for Ozzie Albies? The former Mississippi Braves star, on an injury rehab assignment at Triple-A Gwinnett, went 5-for-5 with a walk-off home run on Tuesday. The Braves’ erstwhile second baseman is batting .348 in 23 ABs at Gwinnett. He has been on the injured list since mid-June with a broken bone in his foot. … Former M-Braves Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson and Michael Harris II contributed six hits, four RBIs and three runs in Atlanta’s 5-1 win at San Francisco that moved the Braves within a half-game of the New York Mets in the National League East. Former M-Braves right-hander Kyle Wright became the Braves’ first 18-game winner since 2003. … East Central Community College product Tim Anderson, out for over a month with a hand injury, reportedly will ramp up baseball activities for the Chicago White Sox and could return to the lineup next week. The All-Star shortstop and team leadoff batter is hitting .301. … The White Sox, keeping pace in the American League Central with Cleveland, won for the 10th time in 14 games since manager Tony LaRussa stepped aside for health reasons. Ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman worked a scoreless inning for his 24th hold as the ChiSox beat Colorado 4-2. … The Guardians remained 3 games up on Chicago by beating the Los Angeles Angels 3-1 as Southern Miss alum Kirk McCarty picked up his third MLB win with 3 1/3 scoreless relief innings. The rookie lefty now has a 4.88 ERA. … Former State standout Hunter Renfroe had two hits, an RBI and a run in Milwaukee’s 8-4 win against rival St. Louis and Jordan Montgomery. The Brewers, 7 games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central and fourth in the wild card standings, have won three in a row. … Ex-Mississippi College star Blaine Crim went 1-for-3 with two RBIs in his Triple-A debut for Round Rock in the Texas chain. He hit .295 with 24 homers and 91 RBIs at Double-A Frisco. … USM product Matt Wallner put up a 3-for-4 with two RBIs for Triple-A St. Paul (Minnesota) to lift his average to .257; he has six homers and 31 RBIs in 48 games there. He hit .299 with 21 homers in Double-A to start the season. P.S. On this date in 1912, Crystal Springs native Phil Redding made his big league debut — and it was one to forget. Right-hander Redding, starting for St. Louis against the Boston Braves, allowed 16 hits, five walks and nine earned runs in eight innings. (Was he being punished?) He won his next two starts, pitched in one more game in 2013 and then never again in the majors.
It wasn’t all cupcakes and balloons for Konnor Pilkington on his 25th birthday, though the night did have a happy ending. The Mississippi State product from Pascagoula got the start for Cleveland against the Los Angels on Monday — in a game featured on MLB Network’s Clubhouse Edition — and he no-hit the Angels for 3 1/3 innings. But the big lefty, working with a lead, yielded two-run home runs to Matt Duffy and Mike Trout in consecutive innings that tied the score. Pilkington departed after the fifth and watched from the dugout as the Guardians rallied to win 5-4 in a tense game in which both managers were ejected. Cleveland increased its lead in the American League Central to 3 games. Pilkington, a rookie, has been called up eight different times from Triple-A Columbus yet has managed a fairly steady performance in his big league opportunities. Over 14 games, 10 starts, he has a 4.30 ERA and a 1-2 record. At Columbus, he is 2-4, 5.66. A third-round pick out of State by the Chicago White Sox in 2018, Pilkington was traded to Cleveland last summer. He and former Southern Miss pitchers Nick Sandlin and Kirk McCarty, also a rookie, have been contributors for what appears to be a playoff-bound club. P.S. The Dodgers became the first team to clinch a postseason berth by beating Arizona 6-0 on Monday. Former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman, in his first year in L.A., has been a driving force in the star-studded lineup. Not to be overlooked is the performance of another M-Braves alum, right-hander Evan Phillips. Phillips, who passed through Pearl in 2016-17, notched his 18th hold on Monday and trimmed his ERA to 1.33 in 55 appearances. He has six wins and two saves for the National League West behemoth.
The curtain calls in the dramas that played out in Pittsburgh and Seattle on Sunday went to the leading men: Albert Pujols of St. Louis and the Mariners’ Eugenio Suarez. But their supporting cast also rates some applause. In the Cardinals’ 4-3 win against the Pirates, former Mississippi State standout Chris Stratton got the last two outs in eighth inning, stranding two runners, and Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson then drove in St. Louis’ first run in the ninth and was on board for Pujols’ 697th homer, which put the Cards ahead. In Seattle, MSU alumnus Adam Frazier produced two hits, two RBIs, two runs and a stolen base as the Mariners built a five-run lead through seven innings against Atlanta. The Braves made an incredible comeback — fueled by Michael Harris II and Robbie Grossman — to take the lead in the ninth before homers by Julio Rodriguez and Suarez won it for the M’s 8-7. Stratton, a trade deadline acquisition by the Cardinals (from Pittsburgh), has pitched well for his new team. In 13 appearances covering 17 innings, the veteran middle reliever has a 2.65 ERA and a 3-0 record. Dickerson, after a horrid first half with the Cards, has hit .398 with two homers, 15 RBIs and 11 runs since the All-Star break. St. Louis has virtually locked up the National League Central. Frazier has run hot-and-cold for Seattle, which has a firm grip on a wild card berth in the American League. The lefty-hitting second baseman, always steady with the glove, is batting .242 with three homers, 35 RBIs, 59 runs and nine stolen bases over 137 games.
After getting limited at-bats during a month with Kansas City, Brent Rooker was optioned back to Triple-A Omaha on Friday. The Mississippi State product went 4-for-25 with the Royals. Two of those hits came in his KC debut back on Aug. 13. Kansas City traded with San Diego to get Rooker, a 27-year-old outfielder, at the August deadline, and it was assumed he’d get more of an opportunity with the lowly Royals than he did with the Padres (seven at-bats). It didn’t happen. Rooker, the 35th overall pick by Minnesota in 2017 after an All-America career at State, has hit well in the minors but not so much in the big leagues. Including his two seasons with the Twins, he is batting .200 with 10 homers and 86 strikeouts in 81 MLB games. Between Triple-A El Paso and Omaha this year, he has slugged 22 homers and batted .286. He has a .267 career average in the minors with 96 bombs but has struck out in roughly a third of his ABs. Wonder if he’ll get another shot with the Royals? P.S. Former Ole Miss star Nick Fortes went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs to help Miami beat the New York Mets 6-3 on Friday — and to help streaking Atlanta move into first place in the National League East. The Braves blasted four home runs and won 6-4 at Seattle. … Biloxi clinched the season series (see previous post) against the Mississippi Braves with an 8-3 win at MGM Park. The Shuckers are 16-12 vs. their Double-A Southern League rival with two games remaining this weekend.