It seemed like a good omen for Atlanta, which hits tons of home runs and scores bunches of runs in the first inning, when Austin Riley blasted a 447-foot, two-run homer in the opening inning Wednesday night to put the Braves on top of Philadelphia. And a good omen it was. With Spencer Strider and a couple of relievers taking it home, the Braves clinched the National League East by beating the Phillies 4-1 at Citizens Bank Park, celebrating their sixth straight division crown on the field of one of their main rivals. DeSoto Central High alum Riley’s homer was his 35th, three off his career-high set in 2022. That bomb was one of a handful of noteworthy homers by Mississippians in pro ball. Former Mississippi State star Nathaniel Lowe hit his 16th, a three-run shot in the fourth inning, as Texas won its fifth straight game, 10-0 at Toronto, and remained one game back of Houston in the wild American League West. For the Rangers, that win may have helped assuage the pain they felt in learning that ace Max Scherzer is done for the year. Ex-Southern Miss standout Matt Wallner’s 12th homer of the season got Minnesota on the board in the third inning against visiting Tampa Bay, but the Twins ultimately fell 5-4. Wallner has homered roughly once every 14 at-bats for the Twins this year. The Twins lead the AL Central by 7.5 games over Cleveland but have lost three of four and have yet to clinch. In the minors, Biloxi High product Colt Keith continued his breakout path, belting his 11th home run for Triple-A Toledo and 25th overall in 2023. Keith, 22, a third-year pro in Detroit’s system, is batting .309 (.932 OPS) with 95 RBIs. In the independent Atlantic League, ex-Ole Miss standout Thomas Dillard extended his league-leading homer total with his 37th for Lexington. Dillard hit 37 homers in three years in affiliated ball in Milwaukee’s system and 31 in three seasons at UM. The Greenwood native is batting .254 with 97 RBIs for Barry Lyons’ Counter Clocks, who are out of playoff contention in the APBL. P.S. Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton made his debut for Triple-A Durham on Wednesday as a defensive replacement in center field. Hamilton, 33, who has 931 professional stolen bases, was signed by Tampa Bay on Aug. 30 after being released by the Chicago White Sox. There is speculation the Rays, a playoff contender in the AL, will bring him up as a speed specialist for the stretch run.
Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High star, has had a big year for Atlanta, but the MVP chatter surrounding the third baseman has diminished lately. He has a chance to revive it this weekend in the series that’s been circled on a lot of calendars seemingly for months. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock all summer, the New York Mets visit Truist Park for a three-game set that could decide the National League East title. The Braves are down a game in the standings. One of Riley’s main rivals for MVP is the Mets’ Pete Alonso, so that’s a subplot worth watching. Riley is batting .275 with 37 home runs and 92 RBIs. But over his last 15 games, he has hit just .200 with one homer and two RBIs. The Braves need better production this weekend. For the record, Riley is batting .294 with two homers and five RBIs career against Jacob deGrom, New York’s starter in tonight’s opener. … There will also be a spotlight on several other former Mississippi Braves. The immensely talented Ronald Acuna (.275, 15 homers, 28 steals) has hit just .214 in his last seven games. Michael Harris II, the likely NL rookie of the year, is batting .305 with 19 homers, 64 RBIs and 20 bags — but is at .267 with one homer in his last seven. And then there are the starting pitchers in three dream matchups. Max Fried (13-7, 2.50 ERA) faces deGrom tonight, followed by Kyle Wright (20-5, 3.18) against Max Scherzer on Saturday and Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) vs. Chris Bassitt on Sunday. The managerial matchup is also pretty sweet: Former M-Braves skipper Brian Snitker rolling the dice against ex-Mississippi State star Buck Showalter. P.S. The M-Braves, Atlanta’s Double-A club, will play an exhibition game against Jackson State next April 5 at Smith-Wills Stadium, it was announced on Thursday. Proceeds from the Hank Aaron Tribute Game reportedly will go to a fund to improve facilities at Jackson parks and schools. Smith-Wills was the longtime home of Jackson’s Double-A Texas League teams, the Mets and Generals, and now hosts the Hank Aaron Sports Academy. The Generals, a Houston affiliate, played JSU in an exhibition game at Smith-Wills in 1991.