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.
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.
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.
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.
MLB’s fall version of March Madness starts Tuesday, and, as you’d expect, there are quite a few Mississippi connections among the 16 teams. Tampa Bay, top seed in the American League, features two Mississippi State products, Hunter Renfroe (.156, eight homers) and Nate Lowe (.224, four homers). Northwest Mississippi Community College alum Cody Reed is on the Rays’ injured list and out for the season. The Rays open with Toronto, which may or may not have Ole Miss alum Jacob Waguespack (8.15 ERA) in its bullpen; he finished the season on the IL. Ex-State star Jonathan Holder (4.98 ERA) will be in the New York Yankees’ bullpen when they open with Cleveland. The Chicago White Sox, who tumbled at season’s end to the No. 7 seed position, feature former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson (.322, 10 homers, 45 runs), Southwest CC alum Jarrod Dyson (.180, six steals) and Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet (0.00 ERA in five games), a late-season revelation in the bullpen. Milwaukee – and ex-MSU standout Brandon Woodruff (3-5, 3.05 ERA) – snuck into the National League postseason despite losing its final game Sunday to St. Louis, which clinched a spot by winning. The Brewers got in after Tampa Bay, with ex-MSU stars Renfroe and Lowe contributing four hits, a run and an RBI, eliminated Philadelphia and San Diego, with a 2-for-3 and an RBI effort from State alum Mitch Moreland, KO’d San Francisco’s hopes. Milwaukee, which lists a bunch of former Biloxi Shuckers on its roster, draws top-seeded Los Angeles on Wednesday. Atlanta, the 2-seed in the NL, suits up ex-DeSoto Central star Austin Riley (.239, eight homers) and a host of other former Mississippi Braves. San Diego, the 4-seed in the NL, trots out Moreland (.265, 10 homers) and former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz (1.45 ERA/0.00 over his first 19 appearances). The Padres face St. Louis, which will be missing injured ex-State star Dakota Hudson from its rotation. The third-seeded Chicago Cubs dealt the rival White Sox a hurtful loss on Sunday as Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, making a rare start, went 2-for-4 with a homer, three runs and two steals, including one of home. He is 3-for-11 with three steals since joining the Cubs as a waiver claim on Sept. 7. The Cubs take on Miami, which features former Brookhaven Academy and Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson, who hit .258 with seven homers this season. P.S. There are also a few Mississippians on the coaching staffs of playoff-bound clubs: East Central CC alum Marcus Thames is the Yankees’ hitting coach, Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is the Padres’ bench coach and MSU product Chris Young is the Cubs’ bullpen coach.
Quite a few atta boys to pass out to the Mississippi connections after Tuesday’s league championship games. Who better to start with than:
Brian Dozier. The Southern Miss product from Fulton, making his first postseason start for the Los Angeles Dodgers, went 1-for-4 with a walk and an HBP and drove in the Dodgers’ first run with a two-out single in the first inning in the National League Championship Series. “For him to spark us, and get a point early, I thought that was huge,” LA manager Dave Roberts told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, Calif. After the 2-1, 13-inning, series-squaring win over Milwaukee, it’ll be interesting to see if Dozier gets another start in Game 5 today at Dodger Stadium.
Alex Wood. The ex-Mississippi Braves star threw a clean 11th inning with one strikeout for the Dodgers.
Orlando Arcia. The Biloxi Shuckers alum went 1-for-5 and scored Milwaukee’s lone run. After an uneven regular season, Arcia is batting .280 with three homers, seven RBIs and six runs in the postseason.
Freddy Peralta, Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader. The former Shuckers chuckers worked a combined six scoreless innings in relief duty and punched out 11 for the Brewers.
Mitch Moreland. The ex-Mississippi State star from Amory picked up his second RBI for Boston in the American League Championship Series when he was hit by a Roberto Osuna pitch with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning. That run extended the visiting Red Sox’s lead to 4-2, and Jackie Bradley Jr. followed with his game-breaking grand slam as Boston rolled to an 8-2 win and a 2-1 series lead over Houston.
Tony Sipp. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Moss Point closed out the sixth inning for the Astros after Joe Smith yielded Steve Pearce’s go-ahead homer. Sipp, making just his second postseason appearance, walked the first batter he faced but got a strikeout and a ground out to end the inning.
Charlie Morton. The M-Braves product will get the ball for his first postseason start of 2018 for Houston in tonight’s Game 4, a virtual must-win for the Astros. Morton, 15-3 with a 3.13 ERA this season, was the winning pitcher in Game 7 of both the World Series and the ALCS in 2017.
Time to take stock on the MLB postseason. We’ve seen Baltimore go down in flames as Orioles manager Buck Showalter, the ex-Mississippi State standout, kept the best closer in the league in the bullpen with the American League Wild Card Game on the line. MSU product Mitch Moreland was in the middle of the play that ended the season for Texas, the team that had the best record in the AL. First baseman Moreland knocked down the errant throw by Rougned Odor, then threw home too late to stop the winning run from scoring as Toronto completed a stunning sweep. Moreland went 2-for-8 with two RBIs in what may have been his Texas swansong. Ex-Ole Miss star Drew Pomeranz surrendered the pivotal home run (to Coco Crisp) on Monday in the other ALDS as Cleveland ended Boston’s season and David Ortiz’s career with a sweep. UM alum Mickey Callaway, the Indians’ pitching coach, saw his bullpen limit the Red Sox to two runs while fanning 14 in 10 1/3 innings over the three games. Former Rebels standout Chris Coghlan (0-for-2) has had a quiet National League Division Series for the Chicago Cubs, who saw their ace closer, Aroldis Chapman, cough up a lead Monday against San Francisco, which dodged a sweep by winning in 13 innings. Conor Gillaspie – the son of former MSU star Mark Gillaspie and the Giants’ Wild Card Game hero – delivered the big blow against Chapman, a two-run triple in the eighth inning. “He’s been fun to watch,” Giants ace Madison Bumgarner told the Chicago Tribune. It ain’t been fun for everyone, but that’s what makes October baseball so compelling.