While in the grip of postseason fever, here’s a well-deserved shout-out to Luther Hackman, the former Columbus High star who took MVP honors in back-to-back Taiwan Series in 2008 and ’09. (Stumbled across this compelling nugget of information while searching for something else on baseball-reference.com.) Hackman, a 6-foot-4 right-hander who pitched in the big leagues from 1999-2003, threw 17 shutout innings for the Uni-President Lions and won Games 4 and 7 in the ’08 Taiwan Series, the championship of the Chinese Professional Baseball League. In 2009, Hackman won Games 1, 4 and 7 of the series for the Lions. Hackman pitched in the CPBL for three years, 2010 being his last as a player. Drafted by Colorado in the sixth round in 1994, Hackman pitched in 149 big league games with three clubs and posted a 5.09 ERA. He also pitched in the independent Atlantic League, Mexico and Korea, with middling success. Yet he may still be a legend in the CPBL. P.S. A belated shout-out to umpire Lance Barksdale, the Brookhaven native who was behind the plate for Saturday’s Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. Barksdale missed just one call, according to umpscorecards.com, posting a 99 percent accuracy rate. The one miss: a called strike on a 3-2 pitch to Philadelphia’s Trea Turner in the third inning.
Grae Kessinger, rookie infielder for Houston, watched the first eight games of the Astros’ postseason run from the dugout. The ex-Ole Miss star got quite a different view of the proceedings in the ninth inning Friday night, watching from first base as a pinch runner when Jose Altuve launched a momentum-shifting three-run homer that carried the Astros to a 5-4 win over Texas in a wild, wild Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Kessinger went in at shortstop in the bottom of the ninth and, with two runners on, made a leaping snag of a line drive for the first out. Two outs later Houston had swept the three games at Globe Life Field to go up 3-2 in the best-of-7. The defending champs can earn yet another trip to the World Series with a win in Game 6 at home on Sunday. The grandson of longtime big leaguer Don Kessinger — who never made a postseason appearance in 16 years in The Show — Grae was a midseason call-up by the Astros this year and played sparingly, batting .200 with one homer in 40 at-bats. Houston kept the versatile Kessinger on the postseason roster but didn’t get him into a game before Friday. It was one that won’t soon be forgotten, by Kessinger or anybody else who watched. Before Adolis Garcia’s dramatic three-run homer for Texas in the sixth inning and the benches-clearing kerfuffle he instigated in the eighth, former Mississippi State standout Nathaniel Lowe put the Rangers on the board with an opposite-field homer off Justin Verlander in the fifth. It was Lowe’s second homer this postseason, and he is now 5-for-19 in the ALCS. … Meanwhile, in Arizona, things got a little wild also in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The Diamondbacks, summoning a rally for the second straight day, scored three times in the eighth inning, handing ex-Mississippi Braves star Craig Kimbrel the first blown save of his postseason career and beating Philadelphia 6-5. The series is square at 2-2. The big blow against Kimbrel (now 10-for-11 in saves) was a two-run, game-tying bomb by pinch-hitter Alek Thomas. A subsequent single and walk knocked Kimbrel out of the game, and the go-ahead hit came from Gabriel Moreno against Jose Alvarado. The Phillies struck out three times in the ninth. Of note: Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is slated to be behind the plate for Game 5 tonight at Chase Field, which will feature aces Zack Wheeler and Zac Gallen.
Nathaniel Lowe, the ex-Mississippi State standout, stroked an RBI single to cap a four-run first inning for Texas in its 5-4 win against Houston in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. Lowe was 3-for-8 with a home run this season against Astros starter Framber Valdez before Monday’s big hit — and 6-for-23 career vs. Valdez. The lefty-hitting Lowe went hitless the rest of the way Monday and is 1-for-8 in the series, which the Rangers lead 2-0 heading to Arlington for Game 3 on Wednesday. Lowe, a .273 career hitter, is 5-for-33 (.152) in his postseason career. … J.P. France, MSU alum, made his postseason debut for the Astros and worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief, retiring Lowe on a fly ball for the third out of the fifth inning. Rookie France, who won 11 games as a starter for Houston this year, yielded one hit, a triple, which was erased in a double play to end the sixth. He departed after issuing a one-out walk in the seventh. … Umpire Andy Fletcher, an Ole Miss alum and Mississippi resident, worked the plate in the National League Championship Series opener, his first LCS assignment. He missed 12 ball-strike calls, according to Umpire Auditor, a relatively poor 90.9 percent correct call rate. There did not appear to be a lot of complaints during Philadelphia’s 5-3 victory. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale worked third base and is slated to go behind the plate in Game 5 at Arizona, should the best-of-7 series go that far. … Former Mississippi Braves standout Craig Kimbrel got the save for the Phillies, his third of this postseason and 10th in 10 chances (over 27 appearances) in his MLB career.
Ben Ingram’s call of Atlanta’s game-turning home run on Saturday night was classic: “Who is Eddie Rosario … and where the hell did he come from?” Mississippi native and Mississippi College grad Ingram, voice of the Braves for 680 The Fan in Atlanta, fabulously captured the moment that Rosario, a largely unsung July trade acquisition from Cleveland, blasted the three-run homer that gave the Braves a three-run lead en route to the National League pennant-clinching 4-2 win against Los Angeles. Rosario, who batted .560 with three homers and nine RBIs in the NLCS, was named series MVP. … Atlanta moves on to meet Houston in the World Series, and, yes, the teams who share a Mississippi history have a postseason history, as well. They met five times in the National League playoffs, the last in 2005, an NLDS that featured the first postseason intersection of players from two different eras of Jackson-area Double-A baseball. Atlanta’s lineup included Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, both of whom started that season with the inaugural edition of the Mississippi Braves. Lance Berkman, who played for the Jackson Generals in 1998, started for Houston, and Raul Chavez, another ex-Gen, also played in that series. In the unforgettable fourth and final game, a 7-6 Astros win in 18 innings at Minute Maid Park, McCann and Berkman hit home runs. Vicksburg native John Thomson worked two scoreless innings for Atlanta. Weir’s Roy Oswalt was on the Houston roster but didn’t pitch; he had started and won Game 3 the day before. Roger Clemens pitched the last three innings for the Astros and got the win when Chris Burke took M-Braves alum Joey Devine deep for the walk-off winner 5 hours, 50 minutes after first pitch. … This Fall Classic pits Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, the 2005 M-Braves skipper, against his son, Troy, the Astros’ hitting coach. Atlanta’s current roster is replete with former M-Braves, and the coaching staff includes a former Jackson Generals infielder, assistant hitting coach Bobby Magallanes. … The last time the Braves went to the World Series, in 1999, they had a third baseman from Mississippi on the roster, just as they do this year. In ’99, Howard Battle, a product of Mercy Cross High in Ocean Springs, made Atlanta’s postseason roster after going 6-for-17 with a homer during a September call-up. He didn’t get an at-bat as the New York Yankees swept the World Series. DeSoto Central High alum Austin Riley, Atlanta’s current third baseman, will have much more impact. Riley — an NL MVP candidate — is batting .250 with two homers, five RBIs and six runs this postseason.
Eight years after making a trip to the College World Series with Mississippi State, Kendall Graveman is going to THE World Series with the Houston Astros. Graveman worked four scoreless innings over three appearances for the Astros, who finished off Boston 5-0 Friday in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. It was a 2-0 game when Graveman wriggled out of a jam in the seventh inning with the help of a great throw by catcher Martin Maldonado. Graveman was disappointed when Seattle traded him to Houston back in July, but he no doubt feels better about the move today. … For the Red Sox, who scored just three total runs in Games 4, 5 and 6, ex-MSU star Hunter Renfroe had a forgettable series. He was 1-for-16 with eight strikeouts and was lifted for a pinch hitter in what would have been his final at-bat. … This will be Houston’s fourth trip to the Fall Classic; the first came in 2005, when Mississippi native Roy Oswalt and former Jackson Generals Lance Berkman and Raul Chavez helped the club win the National League pennant. Houston’s Double-A team played in Jackson at Smith-Wills Stadium from 1991-99. … The Astros’ hitting coach is Troy Snitker, son of Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who was the first Mississippi Braves manager in 2005. The younger Snitker played briefly in Atlanta’s minor league system but did not make it to Pearl. … The elder Snitker and the Braves will lean on ex-M-Braves pitcher Ian Anderson in tonight’s Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. Only 23 years old, Anderson has made six postseason starts over two years and is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA. In 2018-19 in Mississippi, he was 9-6, 2.62. In 2019, he started a combo no-hitter at Trustmark Park while wearing a Jackson Generals uniform on a special tribute night. … Anderson is one of several M-Braves alumni on the Atlanta roster. In addition, reserve infielder Orlando Arcia played for Biloxi on his route to the big leagues in Milwaukee’s system. … The Los Angeles Dodgers also have an M-Braves alum on their club: Reliever Evan Phillips pitched in Pearl in 2016 and ’17 on his circuitous journey to the NLCS. The Dodgers claimed Phillips off waivers from Tampa Bay in mid-August; he was previously released by Baltimore. He has thrown three scoreless innings against the Braves. … Brookhaven native and veteran MLB umpire Lance Barksdale is scheduled to work behind home plate tonight at Truist Park. P.S. Kudos to Hattiesburg native Robert Carson and Biloxi native Jacob Lindgren, who were part of championship teams in the top two independent leagues. Carson pitched for Atlantic League champ Lexington and Lindgren for American Association winner Kansas City. Both Carson and Lindgren, an MSU alum, previously pitched in the big leagues.
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.
There are a lot of reasons to like Austin Riley, the hero of Atlanta’s 3-2 win against Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series opener on Saturday night. The 24-year-old third baseman out of DeSoto Central High had to prove himself worthy of a starting job in spring training. A slow start to the season brought out the doubters again. Manager Brian Snitker stuck with him, and Riley responded by putting up MVP-type numbers while also playing Gold Glove-quality defense as the Braves charged to a division title. He was the definition of clutch on Saturday: a game-tying home run with two outs in the fourth inning and a game-winning hit in the ninth, his first walk-off knock as a pro. “He’s been our rock in the middle of the order,” Braves pitcher Max Fried said in a postgame interview. Ozzie Albies, who scored the winning run, called Riley “the big boss.” But Riley doesn’t act like a boss. For all his physical talents, his most admirable quality might be his comportment. After his home run Saturday — a laser into the left-field seats — he didn’t flip his bat, pound his chest or point to his wrist. He celebrated with a swarm of teammates after the ninth-inning hit, but in the televised postgame interview, he was composed and humble, as he always is. As over-the-top, look-at-me celebration begins to creep into baseball, it’s refreshing to see Riley handle his success with such grace. Want another reason to like him? In a recent interview with Mark Bowman of mlb.com, Riley said his favorite baseball movie, one he watched hundreds of times as a kid, is “The Sandlot.” Sounds about right.
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.
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.
His numbers against Washington this season were good. The situation Dakota Hudson and his St. Louis Cardinals find themselves in today is not. With his team down 3-games-to-none in the National League Championship Series, ex-Mississippi State star Hudson is set to start for the Cardinals tonight at Washington. The rookie right-hander, a 16-game winner in 2019, allowed just three earned runs in 13 innings in two starts against the Nationals this season, one in May, the other in September. He won the latter, in St. Louis, and lost the former, at Nationals Park. Nationals batters hit just .184 against Hudson, a sinkerball specialist. Anthony Rendon, who rakes against everybody it seems, was 2-for-3 with the lone home run. Yan Gomes was 2-for-6. (Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier, unlikely to start, was 0-for-3 against Hudson.) Hudson made one start in the NLDS against Atlanta, yielding one run in 4 2/3 innings in Game 4, an elimination game – at home — that St. Louis rallied to win. As much as they need a quality effort from Hudson, the Cardinals need runs even more. In an effort to wake up their slumbering attack, the Cardinals gave Mississippi Braves alum Jose Martinez a start in right field in Game 3. He went 2-for-4, but the Cards managed only one run. The 6-foot-6 Martinez hit .285 as the regular right fielder for the 2013 M-Braves.