Home runs were the dominant theme in the MLB playoffs on Wednesday night. There were 14 in the three games, and a couple of postseason homer records were set. Unfortunately for former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn, he was on the bad end of one of those records. The 36-year-old right-hander, starting for Los Angeles, allowed four solo homers in the third inning, accounting for all of Arizona’s scoring in a 4-2 win that clinched a National League Division Series sweep for the upstart Diamondbacks. No team had ever hit four homers in one inning of a postseason game. “The way (Lynn) was throwing the baseball, I didn’t expect that,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told the Los Angeles Times. Maybe it shouldn’t have been a total shock. Lynn led all of MLB with 44 homers allowed this season, which he split between the Chicago White Sox and the Dodgers. And the ball flies at Arizona’s Chase Field. Lynn — described by TBS’s Ron Darling as “stubborn, angry and mule-ish” on the mound — got through the first two innings, allowing just two singles. Then … boom: 1,626 feet of home runs in the third. Lynn was gone after 2 2/3 and the Dodgers, the No. 2 seed in the NL, were gone from the postseason a little while later. Lynn has had a great career. He won an SEC title at Ole Miss and a World Series title with St. Louis. He has made two All-Star Games. He has won 136 major league games, five more in the postseason, and he won a World Baseball Classic game earlier this year. But that four-homer inning is no doubt gonna sting for a while. … Elsewhere, Philadelphia hit a club-record six homers, two by Bryce Harper, in a 10-2 win over Atlanta at another homer haven, Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies lead that NLDS 2-1 heading into Game 4 tonight. Former Mississippi Braves standout Spencer Strider, a 20-game winner this year, will start for the Braves. … Houston clinched its seventh straight American League Championship Series appearance by beating host Minnesota 3-2 in Game 4. All the runs in that game came via the long ball, with Jose Abreu hitting the go-ahead shot — his third in the two games at Target Field — in the fourth inning.
Nathaniel Lowe made a couple of noteworthy contributions Tuesday night in Texas’ American League Division Series-clinching win. The Mississippi State product blasted a 437-foot homer in the sixth inning, capping the scoring in a 7-1 victory over Baltimore. Less attention-grabbing but certainly significant was a second inning at-bat that ended in an out. Leading off the inning, Lowe battled Baltimore starter Dean Kremer for 15 pitches before lining out to left field. The Rangers proceeded to score five runs in that inning, knocking out Kremer (53 pitches all told) and seizing command at Globe Life Field. Lowe’s homer, on a 1-1 pitch, was one of four by the mighty Rangers, who hit an AL-best 233 this season. Lowe, who has prodigious power, had 17 homers, which ranked just seventh on the team. He has not had a hot postseason — 4-for-22 — but his team has won five straight, by a 32-12 count, and is headed for the AL Championship Series for the first time since 2011. (Another ex-MSU first baseman, Mitch Moreland, was on that club.) Baltimore, the AL East champion and top seed in the playoffs, is going home. Former State star Jordan Westburg had a hit and scored the lone run for the Orioles on Tuesday but also struck out three times, including the game’s final out. MSU alum Adam Frazier was 0-for-2, capping a hitless series. P.S. Texas will meet the Houston-Minnesota winner in the ALCS. The visiting Astros crushed the Twins 9-1 on Tuesday to take a 2-1 lead in their best-of-5. Ex-Southern Miss standout — and Minnesota native — Matt Wallner was 0-for-2 with two walks for the Twins. The lefty-hitting Wallner should be in the lineup tonight vs. Astros righty Jose Urquidy when the teams meet again at Target Field. … Lance Lynn, the veteran right-hander out of Ole Miss, will make his 28th career postseason appearance tonight for Los Angeles, which faces elimination against Arizona in the National League Division Series. Lynn is 5-5 with a 5.28 ERA in playoff games.
To steal a line from Verne Lundquist, “In your life … have you seen anything like that.” The home run. The catch. The throw. A package deal. Fans of the Atlanta Braves surely will never forget what transpired on Oct. 9, 2023, at Truist Park. In a matter of minutes on Monday night, Austin Riley hit a go-ahead two-run homer, Michael Harris II made a sensational catch in center field and Riley fielded a wild throw from Harris and gunned down Bryce Harper for a game-ending double play. Hitless and scoreless for 5 2/3 innings, down four runs, the Braves got up off the mat to beat Philadelphia 5-4, squaring the National League Division Series at a game apiece. The Phillies’ Zack Wheeler handcuffed the Braves into the sixth, striking out 10 to tie a franchise postseason record held by, among others, Meridian Community College alum Cliff Lee. Then the Braves got on the board thanks to some aggressive baserunning by Ronald Acuna Jr. Then Travis d’Arnaud hit a two-run homer in the seventh. Then Riley golfed a two-run shot off Jeff Hoffman to put the Braves ahead in the eighth and send the ballpark into a frenzy. These Braves hit homers. It’s what they do. It was the fourth postseason homer for former DeSoto Central High star Riley; his first, in Game 1 of the 2020 NLCS, put the Braves ahead in the ninth against Los Angeles. In Monday’s ninth, Harper drew a leadoff walk and was at first base when Nick Castellanos launched a drive to deep right-center. Harris — whose defensive skills are well-known to Mississippi Braves fans who watched him at Trustmark Park just last year — ran the ball down, leaping against the fence to make the catch. His throw to the infield got past Ozzie Albies, but third baseman Riley was backing up the play, fielded the ball and threw a laser to first base to catch Harper off the bag. “Right place, right time” was the ever-humble Riley’s postgame explanation. “The postseason is special,” he told mlb.com. And this was a special win for a 104-win team that appeared to be sleepwalking for the first 14 innings of the series. The Braves still have work to do. They must win at least once in Philadelphia to stay alive in the best-of-5. Monday might have been a turning point.
A maroon four are bound for the stage in the Baltimore-Texas American League Division Series, with two former Mississippi State Bulldogs on the roster of each team. All four best-of-5 division series get under way Saturday. Baltimore, featuring Adam Frazier (MSU 2013) and Jordan Westburg (MSU 2020), is the top seed in the AL and will host Games 1 and 2 against wild card entrant Texas, which suits up Nathaniel Lowe (MSU 2016) and Chris Stratton (MSU 2012). The veteran Frazier, a lefty-hitting infielder, batted .240 with 13 homers, 60 RBIs and 11 steals in his first year with the Orioles; he has a .217 career postseason average and went 2-for-16 against Rangers pitching this year. Westburg, also an infielder, is a rookie called up in July. He hit .260 with three homers and 23 RBIs and didn’t face Texas. Lowe, Texas’ first baseman, saw a dip in his average (.262 from .302) and homer total (17 from 27) from 2022 but did post a .360 OBP, smack 38 doubles and drive in 82 runs. He has a .154 career postseason average; he was 2-for-24 with a homer against Baltimore this season. Stratton, acquired from St. Louis at the deadline, put up a 3.41 ERA for the Rangers, though he didn’t pitch in many high-leverage situations. The veteran right-hander didn’t face the Orioles in 2023. … In the other ALDS — Houston-Minnesota — the Astros’ roster is expected to include State alum J.P. France (11-6, 3.83 ERA as a rookie), ex-Bulldogs star Kendall Graveman (2.42 in 23 games with Houston in 2023) and former Ole Miss standout Grae Kessinger (.200 in 40 at-bats). France started 23 games this season, but his postseason role seems unclear. Graveman, a veteran reliever, has a 1.64 career postseason ERA (in nine games with Houston in 2021). Kessinger, a reserve, has played four infield positions. Minnesota trots out Matt Wallner, the ex-Southern Miss slugger who belted 14 homers for the Twins and 11 more in the minors this year. He went 0-for-3 in the wild card round. … In the National League, DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley is the lone Mississippian on either active roster for the Atlanta-Philadelphia series. Riley batted .281 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs this season and finished strong. In the postseason, he has a .216 average, three homers, 13 RBIs and a World Series ring (from 2021). … Ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn went 7-2, 4.36, as a starter for Los Angeles after arriving at the deadline, and he has pitched in 27 postseason games over a long career. Still, his role for the Los Angeles-Arizona series was undecided at last report; he gives up a lot of home runs (44 all told in ’23), which seem to play an outsized role in the postseason.
When the Atlanta Braves turned their season around in early June, winning 14 straight games, Austin Riley was a major contributor. The former DeSoto Central High standout batted .271 (16-for-59) with six home runs, 14 RBIs and 13 runs. When the Braves essentially clinched the National League East by sweeping the New York Mets Sept. 30-Oct. 2, Riley chipped in with big hits, going 4-for-11 with a homer and three runs, one in each game. If the Braves are to rally past Philadelphia and win their National League Division Series, they need some Riley. It’s not all on his shoulders, of course, but the big third baseman has been the aircraft carrier most of this season, blasting 38 homers and driving in 93 runs. In the three games against the Phillies, Riley is 1-for-12 with four strikeouts. His lone hit and RBI came in the Game 2 win. He has stranded nine baserunners in this series. Yes, the Braves need a great outing from Charlie Morton today and more offense from Dansby Swanson and Michael Harris II, but Riley looms as the key to their fortunes. It’s now or never for the defending champs in 2022. They need some Riley. As he told mlb.com after the crushing Game 3 loss on Friday, “(we’ll) see what we’re made of.”
Takeaways from Wednesday night’s National League Division Series:
1) Kyle Wright, the former Mississippi Braves right-hander, is pretty good. Yes, Atlanta scored a lot of runs when he pitched this season and racked up 21 wins. But the game against Philadelphia and ace Zack Wheeler was a grinder, and Wright was up to the task, shutting out the red-hot Phillies for six innings, yielding but two hits and a walk. He’s no fluke.
2) Former M-Braves third baseman Austin Riley and shortstop Dansby Swanson deserve recognition among the best defensive players at their positions. Both made highlight reel catches for Atlanta that will be marveled at for weeks (years?) to come, especially if the Braves make another October run.
3) If Josh Hader has indeed recovered his old form, San Diego could be a beast in these playoffs. The former Biloxi Shuckers star, who had some well-chronicled struggles this season, was throwing nasty gas for San Diego, getting the last four outs in the Padres’ 5-3 win over Los Angeles. “He looked like he wanted it when he came in,” Padres catcher Austin Nola told mlb.com. The wiry left-hander wasn’t perfect. Only 16 of Hader’s 25 pitches were strikes, but he cut down the vaunted top of the Dodgers’ lineup in the ninth, allowing only a hit to Freddie Freeman. Traded from Milwaukee to San Diego at the deadline, Hader had a 7.31 ERA in 19 games for the Padres. But over his last seven appearances, he did not allow a run, struck out eight, walked one and registered four saves. Fans of the Shuckers and M-Braves might recall Hader’s 2016 stint in Biloxi, when he posted a 0.95 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 57 innings over 11 starts. He was scary good, and he might be again.
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.