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.
After a rough season in Triple-A, Chris Ellis is trying to iron some things out in the Mexican Pacific League. The former Ole Miss (and Mississippi Braves) right-hander has made two appearances for Monterrey, yielding a run on two hits in two innings. Ellis made his big league debut in March with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick but was promptly returned to the St. Louis organization and spent the season at Triple-A Memphis. He was 5-5 with a 7.18 ERA. … Also playing winter ball are Mississippi State product Jacob Robson and Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Kade Scivicque, both Detroit farmhands. Robson, who batted .267 with nine homers and 25 steals at Triple-A Toledo, is off to a 3-for-9 start with a homer for Aguilas Cibaenas in the Dominican Winter League. Scivicque, a onetime M-Braves catcher, is 2-for-7 in two games for Gigantes del Cibao of the DWL. He hit .295 with nine homers this year between Triple-A and Double-A. P.S. Neither of the Mississippi college products on the National League Championship Series teams has had an impact heading into Game 3 tonight in Washington. Former Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier played two innings at second base for the Nationals as part of a double-switch in Game 2. He didn’t bat. Ex-MSU star Dakota Hudson is slated to start Game 4 for St. Louis on Tuesday; he did not work in the first two games.
Eat up some innings. That was Job 1 for Brandon Woodruff on Wednesday, and in that he succeeded. History will show that Woodruff, the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout, took the loss in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. But he pitched well and, most important for Milwaukee, he pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving some needed rest to other members of the bullpen that carries the Brewers’ hopes. The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the series 3-2 after Wednesday’s 5-2 victory at Dodger Stadium. Woodruff, who had thrown two hitless innings in Game 1, came on – as part of a master plan – one batter into Game 5 and pitched into the sixth, battling Clayton Kershaw blow for blow. “I was just trying to get deep in the game,” Woodruff said in a TV interview. He allowed five hits – all singles — and a walk, hit two batters and was charged with three runs, one of them unearned. He struck out eight of the 22 batters he faced. He was lifted after allowing an opposite-field hit to Max Muncy that delivered a runner from second base and put LA ahead 2-1. Though Woodruff’s longest stint in an MLB game this year was five innings back in May, he threw five or more in 10 of his 17 Triple-A starts. Length was what the Brewers needed Wednesday, and that’s what Woodruff gave them, along with a chance to win. Manager Craig Counsell praised his effort. And now the vaunted Brewers pen is locked and loaded for Game 6 on Friday in Milwaukee.
The table was set. Bases loaded. Two outs. Bottom of the ninth. Down four runs. On the 30th anniversary of one of the greatest moments in Los Angeles Dodgers history – Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series home run — there was no magic in the moonlight for Brian Dozier. The former Southern Miss standout, up as a pinch hitter, took a called third strike on a 1-2 fastball from Milwaukee’s Jeremy Jeffress, closing out the Brewers’ 4-0 victory at Dodger Stadium on Monday night. Milwaukee leads the National League Championship Series 2 games to 1. It was a frustrating game for the Dodgers, who went a collective 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and for Dozier in particular. Judging from his reaction to the final pitch, he thought it was off the plate (and he may have been right). He is now 0-for-3 in the series, all the at-bats as a pinch hitter. For the record, Dozier did hit a grand slam this season, a dramatic game-winner for Minnesota back on July 15, and was 3-for-7 with the bases loaded in 2018. But he finished the season in a dreadful slump — .133 over his last 30 games — and has gotten just five at-bats this postseason. Perhaps Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will shake up the lineup for tonight’s Game 4 against Brewers lefty Gio Gonzalez. Kiki Hernandez, who has been starting at second base, is 2-for-18 in the postseason. Dozier hits lefties fairly well. And you know he’d love another shot at a shining moment.
In two appearances in his first major league postseason, Brandon Woodruff has shown an impressive ability to rise to the occasion for the Milwaukee Brewers. The Mississippi State alum from Wheeler threw three hitless innings to start Game 1 of the National League Division Series last week, propelling the Brewers to a three-game sweep of Colorado. The big right-hander topped that performance on Friday night in the opener of the National League Championship Series. Called from the bullpen in the third inning, he tossed two perfect frames with four strikeouts and in between blasted a 400-foot, game-tying home run off Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw. The Brewers bench and the Miller Park crowd went bonkers over the homer. It was one of those postseason moments that will live forever. Woodruff called it “crazy” in a postgame interview. “I knew he could swing the bat a little bit,” Kershaw said in a TV interview. “I didn’t know he could do that.” Throwing what TV broadcaster John Smoltz called “easy gas,” Woodruff went out for the fourth with a 2-1 lead and fanned Max Muncy, Manny Machado and Matt Kemp in succession. Again, the place went nuts. Milwaukee surged to a big lead and its bullpen brigade managed to hold on for a 6-5 victory. What a night. There have been a couple of other defining moments in Woodruff’s relatively brief pro career. In June of 2017, he was slated to make his big league debut but injured himself warming up before the game. He went on the disabled list and then back to the minors, finally getting his second chance about two months later. He was ready, pitching shutout ball into the seventh inning to beat Tampa Bay. Perhaps more telling about Woodruff’s heart and tenacity was his performance on July 24, 2016, for the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers. Six days after burying his brother Blake, who died in a four-wheeler accident back home in Wheeler, Woodruff tossed six shutout innings and hit his first pro home run to win a game at Pensacola. P.S. Mitch Moreland, the ex-State star from Amory, had a good workout Friday and expects to be on Boston’s roster for Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, which starts tonight at Fenway Park. Moreland injured a hamstring in the ALDS.
There are four Mississippi natives still playing in this MLB season, one with each of the four teams still standing in the playoffs. Amory’s Mitch Moreland plays first base for Boston, which faces Houston and Moss Point product Tony Sipp, a relief specialist, in the American League Championship Series. Fulton’s Brian Dozier is a second baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are taking on Milwaukee and Wheeler product Brandon Woodruff, a pitcher, in the National League Championship Series. Sipp, 35, is the senior member of the group and has followed the most serpentine route to this point. He signed with Cleveland as a 45th-round pick out of Clemson in 2004. He had been drafted twice previously (in higher rounds) – at Moss Point High in 2001 and a Florida juco in 2002. He was a two-way star at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC in 2003 but went undrafted. It took the lithe left-hander five years in the minors to reach the big leagues but once he did, he stuck. This is his fifth year with the Astros and was one of his best, as a 1.86 ERA will attest. He and Moreland have a little history. Moreland is 3-for-11 with two doubles vs. Sipp, who has fanned the lefty hitter six times. Moreland was a 17th-rounder out of Mississippi State in 2007 by Texas, made the big leagues three years later and has made a habit of showing up in the postseason. Moreland is in his second year with Boston, having re-signed with the Red Sox as a free agent in the off-season. He made his first All-Star Game in 2018 and finished with a .245 average and 15 homers. He and Dozier have a little history. They played American Legion ball together back in Tupelo. Dozier went to Southern Miss and was an eighth-round selection in 2009 by Minnesota. He reached the big leagues in 2012, took a brief detour back to the minors, then returned to stay in 2013. An All-Star with the Twins in 2015, the pending free agent was traded to the Dodgers in July. He slumped at season’s end, finishing with a .215 average and 21 homers. He and Woodruff have a little history – but only a little. Dozier is 1-for-2 with a homer off the right-hander, who is in just his second MLB campaign. Woodruff was drafted in the fifth round out of Wheeler High in 2011 but went to Mississippi State instead. After an unspectacular career with the Bulldogs, Milwaukee picked him in the 11th round in 2014. He blossomed quickly, becoming the Brewers’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2016 and making his big league debut the next summer. He put up a 3.61 ERA this season, working primarily in relief down the stretch.
Game 4. However it plays out, Game 4 of the 2016 National League Championship Series is one Chicago Cubs fans will remember. “Teams that win the whole thing always have games that define them,” Cubs outfielder and ex-Ole Miss star Chris Coghlan told ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Game 4 at Dodger Stadium tonight will be such a game. Win it, and the series is even, guaranteed to go back to Wrigley Field. Lose it, and the Cubs are down 3-1 with Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw looming either in Game 5 or 6. The Cubs, shut out in Games 2 and 3, haven’t been hitting. Coghlan, a .252 hitter in 48 regular season games, hasn’t had much opportunity off the bench, going 0-for-2 with a walk in the NLCS. He doesn’t face lefties often, so he isn’t likely to start Game 4 against Julio Urias. But he could get an at-bat late, in a crucial spot, a “defining” moment perhaps. An anxious Cubs Nation – and every other true fan – will be watching.