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.
World Series anniversaries of note: Ten years ago, Eli Whiteside, the Delta State product from New Albany, won a ring with the San Francisco Giants without playing in any of the five games. Whiteside was the backup catcher for the great Buster Posey, who started every game against Texas. Whiteside hit .238 in 56 games during the season. On the losing side that year were ex-Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland and Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee. Moreland, a rookie, went 6-for-13 with a homer, while lefty Lee was 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in two starts. … Forty years ago, former MSU star Del Unser sparked Philadelphia past Kansas City in the pivotal fifth game of the Fall Classic. Unser, a 13-year vet at the time, delivered a game-tying pinch double off Dan Quisenberry in the ninth inning and then scored the go-ahead run in the 4-3 victory. The Phillies took the series in six. Unser went 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs overall. On the losing side in 1980, Greenville native Frank White, who had been the American League Championship Series MVP, had a World Series to forget: 2-for-25 with three errors at second base. … Sixty years ago, Magnolia State natives Joe Gibbon and Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell won rings with Pittsburgh thanks to Bill Mazeroski’s legendary walk-off homer in Game 7 vs. the New York Yankees. Gibbon, from Hickory and Ole Miss, yielded three runs in two appearances, and Leakesville’s Mizell took the loss as the starter in Game 3 and had a 15.43 ERA over two games.
Just like the last time Tampa Bay was in the World Series, there is a Mississippi native and state college alum on the roster. Current Rays outfielder Hunter Renfroe is hoping for a better result than former Rays pitcher Chad Bradford witnessed in 2008. Bradford, a Hinds Community College and Southern Miss product from Byram, made two scoreless appearances in the ’08 Series, which the Rays lost to Philadelphia in five games. Bradford was a late-season acquisition from Baltimore who posted a 1.42 ERA in 21 games for Tampa Bay down the stretch in 2008, his next-to-last season in The Show. The submarine-style reliever, one of the key figures in “Moneyball,” was money in the postseason over his career, putting up a 0.39 ERA in 24 games spread over seven postseasons. He didn’t have a big impact in the ’08 Series. Renfroe, the ex-Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, might be in a position to do a bit more in his first postseason. Renfroe belted eight homers for the Rays during the year but has been relatively quiet at the plate in the postseason so far. He has one homer and six RBIs while going 3-for-15 with nine strikeouts. He did not play in Saturday’s Game 7 win. He figures to get some swings against left-handers in the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers. … The last time Atlanta was in the World Series, there was a third baseman from Mississippi on the roster. Current Braves third sacker Austin Riley will have to wait at least another year to experience the Fall Classic as Howard Battle did in 1999. Ex-DeSoto Central High star Riley went 1-for-4 with an RBI – and a baserunning gaffe – as the Braves fell to the Dodgers on Sunday night in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Riley hit a huge home run in Game 1 (see previous post) but ultimately batted just .143 in the NLCS and .178 in the postseason overall, striking out 18 times. Back in ’99, Battle, an Ocean Springs native and Mercy Cross High product, was on a Braves team that made it through a dramatic NLCS but was swept in the World Series by a New York Yankees juggernaut. In his 10th pro season in 1999, Battle was a late addition to the Braves’ roster, going 6-for-17 with a homer in September, and was a surprise addition to their postseason roster. He went 0-for-3 in the first two rounds and made just one “appearance” in the Fall Classic. He was announced as a pinch hitter in Game 1 and then lifted for another. He never appeared in another major league game. Riley, just a second-year big leaguer, will have more opportunities to chase a ring, though, after Sunday’s painful loss, he probably isn’t thinking about that just yet.
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.
There is a positive report on Garrett Crochet’s arm injury, which has been termed a “flexor strain in his left forearm.” The former Ocean Springs High (and Tennessee) star made his big league debut for the Chicago White Sox this season – just weeks after being drafted in the first round – and impressed with a 100-mph fastball and eight strikeouts in six innings. But he left his one postseason appearance with the injury, triggering concerns. Apparently, he’ll be fine. White Sox GM Rick Hahn told mlb.com, “We expect him to continue to progress and he’ll be without restriction come next spring.” … Former Mississippi State ace Ethan Small, who seemed on the cusp of a call-up with Milwaukee, got good reviews from his time in the Brewers’ alternate camp. “Ethan really worked on his off-speed offerings while in Appleton,” Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan said in an mlb.com story. “He made some strides and left in a really good place.” … Ex-Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard was also in the Brewers’ alternate camp, where he continued to work at catcher, his position at Oxford High. “He got a lot of time behind the plate and looked very playable back there,” Flanagan said. … Tyler Keenan, drafted out of UM by Seattle in June and invited to their alternate camp, is among 40 players in the Mariners’ Developmental Fall League program in Arizona. (There is no Arizona Fall League this year.) … Blaze Jordan, the ex-DeSoto Central star drafted in the third round this year, is on Boston’s Instructional League roster and is already slotted as the Red Sox’s No. 15 prospect by MLB Pipeline. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound corner infielder is 17 years old. … Other 2020 draftees in fall camps include Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo and State’s Jordan Westburg with Baltimore; State’s Justin Foscue with Texas; Bulldogs product J.T. Ginn with the New York Mets; and Biloxi High alum Colt Keith with Detroit. Ginn is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. … Ex-Rebels star Ryan Rolison is in Colorado’s fall program, as is fellow UM product Will Ethridge and Delta State alum Tanner Propst, a 2020 undrafted signee. Rolison and Ethridge are ranked among the Rockies’ Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, Rolison at No. 2.
It’s unlikely to happen, but it would be kinda cool from a Magnolia State perspective. Tampa Bay faces the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series tonight, which means former Mississippi State teammates Hunter Renfroe and Jonathan Holder could face each other, possibly in a key spot. Renfroe, an outfielder, is not in the Rays’ lineup and has had just one at-bat, as a pinch hitter, in the series. Holder, a reliever, is down in the pecking order in a deep Yankees bullpen. But in an all-hands-on-deck kinda game, anything could happen. Renfroe, from Crystal Springs, and Holder, from Gulfport, were on one of the best teams State has ever had, the 2013 club that reached the finals of the College World Series, falling to UCLA. Renfroe was the hitting star, batting .345 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs. Holder was the closer, posting a 1.65 ERA and 21 saves. Renfroe was drafted that year in the first round by San Diego; Holder went in 2014 in the sixth round to the Yankees. Both are now big league vets. Holder had a 4.98 ERA this season, but that figure was inflated over his last three outings when he yielded eight runs in 4 1/3 innings. Renfroe hit eight homers for the Rays this season but was 0-for-14 against the Yankees and 0-for-1 vs. Holder. They faced off one other time: Holder struck out Renfroe in 2019, when Renfroe was with the Padres. Maybe a third matchup is in the stars for tonight. Unlikely, sure, but it would be kinda cool.
Mitch Moreland certainly has postseason experience. Fifty-one games of it, to be precise. The San Diego Padres, one loss from elimination in the National League Division Series, will try to make use of it in Game 3 tonight against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Former Mississippi State star Moreland didn’t start either of the first two games but certainly looked ready for duty on Wednesday night, fueling a ninth-inning rally with a pinch RBI double. Moreland is 4-for-7 in this postseason. In his career, the 35-year-old Amory native has a .261 postseason average with four homers, 19 RBIs, 10 doubles and 17 runs. He has played in three World Series and won a ring in 2018 with Boston. Makes sense the Padres would want him in the lineup in a do-or-die game. P.S. Ex-MSU standout and Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe, who hit eight homers this season and another in the wild card round, did not play in the first three games of Tampa Bay’s American League Division Series vs. the New York Yankees and is not in the announced lineup for tonight’s Game 4. A left-hander, Jordan Montgomery, was slated to start for the Yankees. Renfroe, a right-handed hitter, was 1-for-5 in the wild card round vs. Toronto. … DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, in his first postseason with Atlanta, is 4-for-17 overall and went 3-for-9 vs. Miami in the division series sweep. … McComb native Corey Dickerson was 1-for-15 (with a home run) in his first postseason before going 3-for-4 for Miami against the Braves today. He was hitless in the first two games.
The Tampa Bay-New York series at San Diego’s Petco Park may have the look of a Mississippi State reunion for some, though these are two teams that really don’t get along. Former Bulldogs star Hunter Renfroe plays for the Rays and former State teammate Jonathan Holder for the Yankees; they are among the six Mississippians expected to be active for the second round of this unique MLB postseason. The openers of the two American League Division Series are today. Renfroe, who spent the first four years of his career playing home games at Petco, had an odd season, hitting just .156 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. He was 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts and three walks against Yankees pitchers. He was 0-for-1 vs. Holder. (MSU alum Nate Lowe, who batted .224 with four homers and 11 RBIs for the Rays after getting recalled in September, was left off the ALDS roster.) Holder, who had a 4.98 ERA in 18 appearances, worked five innings against the Rays, allowing four hits in 18 at-bats. He allowed one run, a homer by Mike Brosseau. On the National League side, MSU alum Mitch Moreland and Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz are with San Diego, which faces Los Angeles beginning Tuesday, and ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson go head-to-head in the Atlanta-Miami series. P.S. Here’s a number to crunch: 29. That’s the number of Mississippians (natives or college alums) who appeared in a major league game in 2020. Of those 29, 16 are products of state high school programs. Three players made their debuts this season, Brent Rooker, Garrett Crochet and Demarcus Evans. The totals don’t include Justin Steele, former George County High star who was on the Chicago Cubs’ active roster for four days in early August but did not make an appearance. The full rundown: Hitters: Anthony Alford (Petal High); Tim Anderson (East Central CC); Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC); Brian Dozier (Southern Miss); Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC); Adam Frazier (Mississippi State); Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville); JaCoby Jones (Richton); Nate Lowe (MSU); Mitch Moreland (MSU); Hunter Renfroe (MSU); Austin Riley (DeSoto Central); Brent Rooker (MSU); Pitchers: Aaron Barrett (Ole Miss); Cody Carroll, (USM); Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs High); Demarcus Evans (Petal High); Kendall Graveman (MSU); Jonathan Holder (MSU); Dakota Hudson (MSU); Lance Lynn (UM); Mike Mayers (UM); Drew Pomeranz (UM); Cody Reed (Northwest CC); Chris Stratton (MSU); Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central); Jacob Waguespack (UM); Bobby Wahl (UM); and Brandon Woodruff (MSU).
Flashback to Oct. 12, 2018: Game 1, National League Championship Series. Brandon Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, hits a home run off Clayton Kershaw and works two perfect innings in relief to lead Milwaukee to a 6-5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers. It’s an enduring postseason highlight for a Mississippi baseball aficionado. (Worth noting: Five days later, Kershaw beat the Brewers – and Woodruff, who again worked in relief – in Game 5. LA won the series in seven.) Back to Oct. 1, 2020: Woodruff squares off with Kershaw again tonight at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of their NL Wild Card Series; it’s a must-win for the Brewers. Though Woodruff won’t get to hit against Kershaw tonight, the pitching matchup alone is compelling. Woodruff is coming off his best start of the season (eight shutout innings vs. St. Louis on Sept. 26) and has a strong postseason resume (2.20 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings over five games). The Hall of Fame-bound Kershaw, 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA this season, has had his ups and downs in the postseason: 9-11, 4.43 in 32 appearances. Woodruff told reporters Wednesday he is taking a measured approach: “I try to treat each day the same and come in and do the same routine, keep everything the exact same.” Perhaps that’ll rekindle some of the magic of Oct. 12, 2018. P.S. MSU product Hunter Renfroe hit .156 for Tampa Bay this season, but eight his 19 hits left the park. It shouldn’t have been a surprise, then, that his lone hit (in four at-bats) in the AL Wild Card Series vs. Toronto was a home run. Renfroe, playing in his first postseason game on Wednesday, hit the first postseason grand slam in Tampa Bay history to cap a six-run second inning as the Rays completed a sweep of the Blue Jays with an 8-2 win. … Former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson, playing in his first postseason game, hit a go-ahead three-run homer for Miami – off Kyle Hendricks, no less — in a Game 1 win against the Chicago Cubs. “It was about seeing it over the plate, get my timing right and letting it go,” Dickerson told mlb. com. “I got a good pitch to hit (a first-pitch, four-seam fastball).” … Former DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley, in his first postseason, went 1-for-8 in Atlanta’s series sweep against Cincinnati. He contributed to the game-winning rally in the 13th inning on Wednesday with a single that moved pinch runner Cristian Pache to second base. Pache later scored the marathon game’s lone run on a Freddie Freeman single. (Worth noting: There were 13 former Mississippi Braves on Atlanta’s 28-man roster.) … Drew Pomeranz, an Ole Miss alum and postseason veteran, worked a scoreless inning in San Diego’s loss to St. Louis in their series opener on Wednesday. Mitch Moreland, an MSU product and also a postseason vet, did not play in Game 1 but is in the lineup at DH for Game 2. … East Central CC alum Tim Anderson, appearing in his first postseason and apparently thrilled to be on the big stage, was 6-for-9 with two runs in the first two games of the White Sox’s AL series against Oakland, then got hits in his first two ABs in today’s Game 3. Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet, the ChiSox’s gas-throwing lefty making just his sixth appearance in a big league game, struck out Matt Olson with runners at the corners and two outs in the first inning of Game 3, then struck out Khris Davis to start the second inning before departing with an apparent injury. His velocity reportedly was down.
He had one job to do. He nailed it. The Milwaukee Brewers needed a win on Saturday to keep their postseason hopes alive. Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State star from Wheeler, went to the bump and delivered his best start of the season. “The story of this game was Woody,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell told mlb.com. Woodruff handcuffed the St. Louis Cardinals on two hits and a walk over eight shutout innings in a 3-0 victory. He struck out 10. He retired 19 in a row from the second inning into the eighth. Former Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader pitched the ninth for his 13th save. So now, the Brewers’ task for today’s season finale at Busch Stadium is simple: Win and they’re in the National League playoffs. Woodruff has had an uneven season. He’s 3-5 despite a 3.05 ERA. He had not won since Aug. 25 before Saturday’s pressure-packed gem. “I love throwing in these types of games,” he said. As a reward for Saturday’s win, he might get to throw in some more in October. … Meanwhile, at Chicago’s Guaranteed Rate Field on Saturday, another Mississippi native came up large in a big game. Former Ocean Springs High star Garrett Crochet, appearing in just his fifth MLB game, notched his first hold with two scoreless innings for the White Sox against the Cubs. Crochet worked the fifth and sixth innings after the Sox had rallied for a 7-5 lead in a game they’d win 9-5 to keep alive their hopes for an American League Central title. Crochet, a first-round draft pick out of Tennessee in June, has lit up the radar guns since his arrival in the big leagues, throwing 45 pitches of 100 mph or more. He has struck out eight batters in six innings and allowed just three hits and no runs. The 6-foot-6, 218-pound lefty said he never threw all that hard as a kid, so this new-found heat “is pretty cool.”