Before former Mississippi Braves star Freddie Freeman took ex-Biloxi Shuckers ace Josh Hader deep for the series-clinching home run, there was a cool all-Mississippi faceoff in Tuesday’s National League Division Series game at Truist Park. Sixth inning. Score tied. Runners first and third. Two outs. Milwaukee summoned Wheeler’s Brandon Woodruff, ordinarily a starter, from the bullpen to face DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley, Atlanta’s cleanup batter. Riley had blasted a 428-foot homer off Woodruff in the Braves’ Game 2 victory, adding to the anticipation of this clash. Woodruff won Tuesday’s battle; on the first pitch, a 97-mph fastball, Riley grounded out to the third baseman. But Riley and the Braves won the war, 5-4 on Freeman’s majestic eighth-inning bomb, and advanced to the NLCS for the second straight year. Woodruff and the Brewers have been in the playoffs four straight years but only once reached the NLCS. Riley went 5-for-15 in the NLDS with a walk, an RBI and three runs and now gets to play some more. … The Chicago White Sox, who had four Mississippi products on their roster, saw their season come to a disappointing end, getting crushed by Houston 10-1 in the decisive Game 4 of their American League Division Series. Tim Anderson, the East Central Community College alum, went 7-for-19 in the series but was 0-for-4 Tuesday. Former Ole Miss standout Lance Lynn got KO’d in his Game 2 start, yielding five runs in 3 2/3 innings. Ocean Springs High product Garrett Crochet did not allow an earned run in three relief appearances but did allow four of four inherited runners to score, including two in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s game that put the Astros up 5-1. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton never got off the bench in what likely was his last time in a White Sox uniform. … For Houston, ex-Mississippi State star Kendall Graveman threw a scoreless eighth inning but did manage to add to the bad blood between the teams when he plunked Jose Abreu with a pitch. It looked intentional. ChiSox manager Tony LaRussa said it clearly was. Astros manager Dusty Baker said it wasn’t. The matter will be revisited next season, count on that. Meanwhile, Graveman gets to see former MSU teammate Hunter Renfroe in the ALCS, where the Astros will play Boston.
If you were waiting for a highlight moment from a Mississippian in the 2021 postseason, the wait is over. Austin Riley delivered Saturday night with a 428-foot home run at the expense of another state high school product, Brandon Woodruff. Riley, the pride of DeSoto Central, gave Atlanta a 3-0 lead with his sixth-inning solo bomb at Milwaukee’s American Family Field as the Braves evened the National League Division Series at a game apiece. Riley, playing third base, also started the game-ending double play that came with the tying run at the plate. Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Max Fried, as good as any pitcher in MLB down the stretch, outpitched Woodruff, the Wheeler High and Mississippi State alum who also ranked among the NL ERA leaders. Woodruff wasn’t bad on Saturday. Two of Atlanta’s biggest hits — an Ozzie Albies RBI double and Riley’s homer — actually came on good pitches. But Woodruff can be home run-prone — 18 in 30 games this season — and the country-strong Riley barreled an 0-1 changeup down and away deep over the right-center field fence in Woodruff’s last inning of work. Riley, the Braves’ cleanup batter the last half of the season, ranked in the top 10 in the NL in batting average, hits, home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage and total bases. That’s MVP-type stuff. Seems only fitting that he would deliver a postseason highlight. And it won’t be a surprise if he delivers more.
It’s just a footnote — but one of significant local interest — on today’s Atlanta-Milwaukee National League Division Series opener. The clubs, meeting for the first time in the postseason, have a rivalry on the Double-A level, where the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers reside. The expected pitching matchups for the first three games feature a former M-Brave vs. a former Shucker: Charlie Morton-Corbin Burnes, Max Fried-Brandon Woodruff and Ian Anderson-Freddy Peralta. No weak links there. Both bullpens are also populated with several pitchers who toiled in the Magnolia State en route to the big leagues, most notably Brewers closer Josh Hader, a nasty left-hander. The Brewers are without setup man (and Shuckers alum) Devin Williams, who broke his hand punching a wall last month after the Brewers clinched the NL Central. Atlanta’s dynamic infield is homegrown: Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson and Austin Riley all passed through Pearl. By contrast, Milwaukee’s lineup was built with players from other organizations. … There is speculation that catcher Shea Langeliers, a 2021 M-Braves star and Atlanta’s minor league player of the year, could make the NLDS roster. He made the trip to Milwaukee. … The Braves and Brewers split six regular season games in 2021. One stands out. On July 31, the Braves beat Woodruff — with the aid of a bad call. It was 1-1 in the sixth inning at Truist Park when Swanson took an apparent third strike for the second out. Swanson dropped his head and started to walk to the dugout. But the pitch was called a ball. So, of course, Swanson hit the next pitch out of the park for a 3-1 lead, ending Woodruff’s night. The big right-hander glared at home plate umpire C.B. Bucknor as he left the field. … Looking ahead to Game 2, when Mississippi prep products Riley and Woodruff will face off: DeSoto Central alum Riley is 1-for-8 with a walk and two strikeouts against Wheeler High alum Woodruff. … The Braves won a World Series in 1957 when the franchise was located in Milwaukee. The Brewers have been to the Fall Classic once, as an American League team in 1982, falling to St. Louis.
Atlanta hosts St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Division Series today, 14 years to the day after one of the most painful losses in Braves history. Atlanta lost 7-6 at Houston in an NLDS game that lasted 18 innings – at the time the longest in postseason history – and eliminated the Braves. The Oct. 9, 2005, game also 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 Mississippi Braves in Pearl. Lance Berkman, who played for the Jackson Generals in 1998, started for Houston, and Raul Chavez, another ex-Gen, also played that day. McCann hit a home run as the Braves built a 6-1 lead. But Berkman belted a grand slam in the eighth and Brad Ausmus hit a solo homer in the ninth – both shots coming off Kyle Farnsworth — to tie it. Among the parade of pitchers in the extra frames was Vicksburg native John Thomson, who 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. Rest assured, no Braves fan has forgotten that game.
Former Mississippi State ace Dakota Hudson is scheduled for his first career postseason appearance today for St. Louis, starting Game 4 of the National League Division Series against Atlanta, a must-win situation for the Cardinals. Hudson, 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA this season, does have some experience in pressurized situations, having started three postseason games for State in 2016. He went 0-2, losing to LSU in the SEC Tournament, taking a no-decision against Southeast Missouri State in the Starkville Regional and losing to Arizona in Game 1 of the Super Regional at Dudy Noble Field. He got knocked around by LSU, yielding nine hits and four runs (two earned) in five innings of a 6-2 loss at Hoover, Ala. (Jared Poche got the win for the Tigers.) Hudson wasn’t sharp against SEMO in the regional, lasting just 3 1/3 innings and allowing four runs, but the Bulldogs rallied to win. His best performance came against Arizona, a start that came the day after the 6-foot-5 right-hander was drafted 34th overall by the Cardinals. He worked 6 1/3, allowed seven hits, one walk and one run – but the Bulldogs lost 1-0 to the Wildcats’ Bobby Dalbec. Arizona took the Super Regional the next day. Hudson signed with St. Louis and two years later made his big league debut. Today, he makes his biggest appearance at Busch Stadium. MSU has paid for several billboards that have gone up in St. Louis wishing Hudson good luck. P.S. Billy Hamilton, the ex-Taylorsville High star, stole third base as a pinch runner and scored the tying run during the Braves’ ninth-inning rally in Game 3 on Sunday. Hamilton, in his first postseason, has scored two runs in his two appearances. … In the other NLDS, Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier started and went 0-for-2 for Washington in its loss to Los Angeles, which can take the series in Game 4 today at Nationals Park. Dozier, in his third postseason, is batting .174. He homered in his very first at-bat for Minnesota in 2017 but has only three hits in 22 ABs since.
Billy Hamilton could get his first taste of the postseason in the National League Division Series with Atlanta, which hosts St. Louis today at SunTrust Park. The former Taylorsville High star apparently has made the Braves’ roster and figures to serve as a pinch runner and defensive replacement in center field. DeSoto Central alum Austin Riley, an outfielder/corner infielder, did not make the NLDS roster. Hamilton, who has 299 career stolen bases over seven big league seasons and is a plus-defender, hit .268 with four steals, nine runs and three RBIs in 26 games for the Braves, who picked him off waivers from Kansas City in August. Ex-Mississippi State standout Dakota Hudson, 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA in 33 games (32 starts) for the Cardinals, reportedly will be available out of the bullpen for Games 1 and 2 and is a potential starter for a possible Game 4 in St. Louis. The right-hander had a 2.63 ERA as a rookie reliever in 2018. P.S. Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton, who pitched for the Mississippi Braves in 2007, became the first pitcher in MLB history to notch a win in three winner-take-all playoff games when he beat Oakland in their wild card showdown on Wednesday night. Morton also won Game 7 of both the 2017 American League Championship Series and the 2017 World Series for Houston.
Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell has announced that Brandon Woodruff, the former Mississippi State standout, will serve as the “opener” — the first of a probable parade of relief pitchers — in today’s National League Division Series game against Colorado. (See previous post.)
Brandon Woodruff found a niche in Milwaukee this season, his second in the majors. The Mississippi State alum from Wheeler became one of the many bullpen pieces Brewers manager Craig Counsell relied on as the club churned toward the National League Central championship. There’s a good chance Woodruff will pitch today in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against Colorado. Much as Oakland did – without great success – in Wednesday’s American League Wild Card Game, Milwaukee is expected to throw a bevy of relievers at the Rockies. And brace for plenty of pitching changes as the series rolls on. That’s the Brewers’ M.O. — and the key to their chances in this postseason. As Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci writes: “This is the game today: a proliferation of relievers with powerful stuff, and managers armed with specific data on how best to deploy them. … And this October, nobody can play this game better than Milwaukee.” Woodruff made 19 appearances for the club, 15 out of the pen. He has a 3.61 ERA, a 3-0 record and one save. Over his last seven appearances, the 25-year-old right-hander had a 0.73 ERA with 16 strikeouts and three walks in 12 1/3 innings. Woodruff is one of a bunch of former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers — Corbin Burnes, Jacob Barnes, Freddy Peralta, Taylor Williams, Josh Hader – now populating the Milwaukee bullpen. P.S. Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss star from Fulton, has played in one postseason game in his seven years in the big leagues. He has to be champing at the bit for his next opportunity, which could come tonight. Dozier isn’t expected to start for Los Angeles in the NLDS opener against Atlanta, but, despite his late-season offensive struggles, he’ll play at some point in the series. Dozier, possibly dealing with a sore knee, batted .182 with five home runs for the Dodgers after being acquired from Minnesota in July. He did homer on the last day of the regular season. And in that one postseason game, last year against the New York Yankees, he went 2-for-4 with a bomb.
There are, most baseball aficionados agree, eight different ways to reach first base. In the crazy top of the fifth inning on Thursday night, the Chicago Cubs produced five of them – in a row — and went on to a 9-8 victory over Washington that sent them to the National League Championship Series. With two outs in the fifth, down 4-3, the Cubs did this: three straight hits (infield hit, single, double), intentional walk, dropped third strike (albeit controversial), catcher’s interference and hit batsman. All that was missing in the four-run inning was an error, a fielder’s choice and fielder’s obstruction. For the record, former Mississippi Braves Jason Heyward (the intentional walk) and Tommy LaStella (the catcher’s interference) were involved in the madness. P.S. Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star and Atlanta prospect, went 3-for-5 with a home run (off Madison Central alum Spencer Turnbull) and four RBIs to pace Peoria to a 10-6 win against Mesa on Thursday in the Arizona Fall League. Turnbull, a Detroit prospect, worked 2 1/3 innings, yielding eight hits, a walk and seven runs (four earned) to take the loss.
Charlie Morton, Houston’s scheduled starter today in Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Boston, spent a largely forgettable season with the Mississippi Braves in 2007. The right-hander, then 23 years old and in his sixth pro season, appeared in 41 games, all but six in relief. He went 4-6 with a 4.29 ERA. He was 0-for-4 in save opportunities. But he got the start for the M-Braves in Game 2 of the Southern League South playoffs against Montgomery at Trustmark Park and delivered what might have been a career-altering performance: seven innings, three hits, one run, eight strikeouts. He made the big leagues the next year after a strong showing in Triple-A. Morton’s MLB career has been unspectacular – 60-78, 4.41 ERA – and stunted by injuries. But he found a footing with the Astros this season, going 14-7, 3.62. Today, at what could be a soggy Fenway Park, he gets his second MLB postseason start. Former M-Braves star Brian McCann (Class of 2005) likely will be the Astros’ catcher today. Waiting in the Boston bullpen, no doubt champing at the bit for a save opportunity, will be Craig Kimbrel, arguably the most dominant closer to pass through Pearl these last 13 years. Kimbrel was 6-for-6 in save opps with two wins and a 0.77 ERA in 12 games for the M-Braves in 2009. … Should there be a Game 4 in the Los Angeles-Arizona National League Division Series, former M-Braves standout Alex Wood is slated to start for the Dodgers. The lefty, a spectacular 16-3, 2.72 this season, went 4-2, 1.26 in 10 starts for the M-Braves in 2013 and made the big leagues that same year.