There are no big league games today, which might make the memory a tad bittersweet for Nate Lowe. On April 29 of last year, ex-Mississippi State standout Lowe made his MLB debut, going 1-for-4 with a double for Tampa Bay in a win at Kansas City. Lowe became the 60th Bulldogs alumnus to make the majors and the second of five Mississippi-connected players (the others: Chris Ellis, Austin Riley, Jacob Waguespack and Bobby Bradley) to debut in 2019. Lowe, who batted .263 with seven homers in 50 games as a first baseman/DH last season, reported for spring training this year about 20 pounds lighter. He was getting more work at third base, versatility that likely would help him contribute more on a Rays team expected to contend – again — in the American League East. “It took a lot of spiritual maturation and physical maturation to kind of start over (this) off-season to get to be the player and the person that I need to be,” he told draysbay.com in February, shortly before baseball shut down. A 13th-round pick out of State in 2016, the lefty-hitting Lowe made some adjustments in his swing after his second pro season and rolled through three levels of the Rays’ system in 2018. He batted .330 with 27 homers, went to the All-Star Futures Game and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year. … Coincidentally, on this date in 2012, another former State first baseman, Tyler Moore, made his big league debut, going 1-for-3 for Washington. Brandon native Moore, who slugged 30 homers over parts of five MLB seasons, is no longer in the game.
Though he has yet to pitch in a World Series game, Mississippi native Tony Sipp, a free agent since August, figures to collect a second World Series ring in the last three years as a result of the Washington Nationals’ stunning takedown of the Houston Astros. Sipp, a veteran left-handed reliever, was a member of the Astros — but not on their postseason roster — when they won the 2017 title. He appeared in 36 games for the Nationals this season but was released in August when they restocked their bullpen at the trade deadline. The former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star had an uneven season, posting a 4.71 ERA. He had signed with Washington as a free agent coming off a resurgent 2018 season with the Astros, for whom he pitched in the playoffs. In 2017, Sipp endured the worst of his 11 big league campaigns (5.79 in 46 games) and was left off Houston’s postseason roster. Still, he got a ring – his first – after the Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Series. At age 36, Sipp’s playing days may be behind him.
There are always many storylines that develop in any World Series game, and umpires do not want to be one of them. In Game 5 on Sunday night, there was a missing ace, an ace on a mission, three big home runs and a clutch double play. There were also issues with balls and strikes. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale was behind the plate at Nationals Park in Washington, where Houston completed a three-game sweep with a 7-1 victory that takes the Astros back home with a 3-2 series lead. The two most contentious ball-strike calls came in the bottom of the seventh inning. It was 4-1 with two outs, and Astros starter Gerrit Cole, very sharp on this particular night, went to a full count on Ryan Zimmerman. The 3-2 pitch was high and away but appeared, on replay, to be a strike. Cole and catcher Martin Maldonado certainly thought so. Barksdale called it a ball. Cole again went full to Victor Robles. The 3-2 pitch again was high and away — but this time, on replay, was clearly a ball. Barksdale emphatically called it a strike, ending the inning. Robles couldn’t believe it and jumped in the air. The Nationals bench went nuts. If it had been a regular season game, people likely would have been ejected. It was Cole’s final pitch — and his ninth punchout — and the Nationals never seriously threatened the rest of the way. The Astros put the game away with a run in the eighth and two more in the ninth. No one blamed Barksdale for Washington’s loss. You give up three two-run bombs, you’re going to lose most of the time. But there has been lots of buzz about the ball-strike calls and how much they can impact the game. Pedro Martinez made some excellent points on the issue on MLB Network’s postgame show. Some are saying it’s time to institute an electronic system for calling balls and strikes, which would be a fundamental change in the grand old game. Will we look back someday on Game 5 of the ’19 Series — the Barksdale game — as the tipping point in that debate?
Two Mississippians were on the field the last time there was a World Series game in Washington, D.C. They wore flannel uniforms and gloves that looked like leather oven mitts. Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House. It was 86 years ago. Nationals Park will play host next week to a Series game, or two or three, marking the first time the nation’s capital will have hosted a Fall Classic contest since way, way back in 1933. On Oct. 7 of that year, at Griffith Stadium, the Washington Senators (sometimes called the Nationals) lost Game 5 – and the series – to the New York Giants 4-3 on a 10th-inning homer by Mel Ott. Ellisville native Buddy Myer manned second base and batted leadoff for the Senators, going 0-for-5. Starkville native Hughie Critz played second and hit second for the Giants, also putting up an 0-for-5. There have been many twists and turns in Washington’s baseball history since. That Senators franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961 – the Twins have made three Series appearances — and was replaced by an expansion Senators franchise, which later moved to Texas, where, as the Rangers, the team has made two Series appearances. The current Nationals club arrived in Washington in 2005 from Montreal, a 1969 expansion club which never made the Series. Finally, after an 86-year wait, Washington gets to host the World Series again. As fate would have it, there is a second baseman from Mississippi — Fulton’s Brian Dozier – on the 2019 Washington club.
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.
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.
The Washington Nationals may have had a little karma working for them in Tuesday night’s game. Aaron Barrett, the former Ole Miss standout who completed a courageous comeback this season, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park before the National League Wild Card Game. Several hours later, the Nationals pulled off a dramatic comeback of their own to beat Milwaukee 4-3. According to reports – and the highlights on TBS – Barrett’s animated appearance on the mound stirred the crowd into a frenzy, a precursor to what happened during the Nats’ stunning eighth-inning rally. Barrett, who was not on the active roster for Tuesday’s game, made it back to the big leagues this season after missing most of the previous three years following Tommy John surgery and a career-threatening broken arm. Nationals owner Mark Lerner suggested having Barrett throw out the first pitch. “I’m pretty humbled by it. … There are so many people that are deserving to do this,” Barrett said in a story on nbcsports.com. P.S. In defeat, the Brewers certainly got what they hoped for from Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff (four innings, one run) and UM product Drew Pomeranz (two shutout innings). … Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier made a pinch-hit appearance for the Nationals and reached on an error.
In identifying an X-factor for each of the current playoff teams, mlb.com’s Richard Justice pegged Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, as that player for Milwaukee. The veteran left-hander has a 2.39 ERA in 25 appearances for the Brewers with 45 strikeouts in 26 1/3 innings. “Pomeranz has been reborn as a dominant late-inning reliever since the Brewers acquired him from the Giants at the Trade Deadline,” Justice wrote. It’s been a long, strange trip for Pomeranz, not only this season but over his entire MLB career. He has been an All-Star and won a World Series ring. He also has been traded four times and pitched in seven different organizations since Cleveland drafted him fifth overall out of Oxford in 2010. After winning a ring with Boston last fall, he signed as a free agent with San Francisco. Through 17 starts with the Giants, he was 2-9 with a 6.10 ERA. They moved him to bullpen, where he had worked in the past – and suddenly everything changed. Pomeranz made four scoreless appearances in late July and impressed the Brewers enough that they traded a top prospect to get him. He has been everything they could have hoped for. Mississippi State alum Brandon Woodruff will start tonight’s National League Wild Card Game at Washington but expect to see Pomeranz – the X-factor — before it’s over. P.S. Woodruff is one of four Biloxi Shuckers alums projected to be in Milwaukee’s lineup. The others are second baseman Keston Hiura, shortstop Orlando Arcia and right fielder Trent Grisham. Ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier, who played sparingly down the stretch, isn’t likely to start at second base for Washington.
Chicago Cubs fans might look back on the seventh inning of Tuesday night’s game at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park as the inning that finally put the fork in their 2019 season. It wasn’t surprising that Adam Frazier, the ex-Mississippi State standout, played a lead role for the Pirates in that pivotal frame, starting the seven-run inning with a double and capping it with an RBI single. The Pirates, shut out by Kyle Hendricks to that point, rolled to a 9-2 victory that snapped their nine-game losing streak and extended the Cubs’ losing skid to seven. One more Cubs loss or one more Milwaukee win will officially eliminate Chicago from playoff contention. “It just went away, brother. It went away,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who might be nearing the end of his tenure. Frazier, who took over as the Bucs’ regular second baseman this season, has been flourishing down the stretch for a team that long ago fell out of the playoff race. The lefty hitter, a sixth-round pick out of State by Pittsburgh in 2013, has batted .353 over his last 30 games with three homers, 16 RBIs and 18 runs. Frazier is batting .281 with 10 homers (matching his career-high) and 49 RBIs on the year. He has set career marks with 32 doubles, seven triples and 77 runs. He is eligible for arbitration after this season and should get a nice raise. P.S. Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss standout, enjoyed a celebration Tuesday with the Washington Nationals, who swept two from Philadelphia to capture a National League wild card berth. Dozier, who went 1-for-3 in Game 1, will be in the postseason for the third straight year and with a third different team (Minnesota, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Nats). He is hitting .233 with 19 homers this year.