The jaw-dropping no-hitter by Houston in Game 4 on Wednesday night — following Philadelphia’s jaw-dropping five-homer game on Tuesday night — ensures that there will be a Game 6 in Houston on Saturday night. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale is scheduled to be the home plate umpire for that game. Barksdale, who worked first base in Game 4, has been umpiring in MLB since 2000 (full-time since 2006) and is highly rated by those who rate such things. He was 18th in overall accuracy out of 96 umps who worked behind the plate in 2022, per umpscorecards.com. He has received a number of major assignments: the World Baseball Classic, the All-Star Game and multiple postseason series, including two World Series. He was behind the plate for Game 5 of the 2019 Series between the Astros and Washington (and made a couple of memorable ball-strike calls). … The Astros have thrown 15 no-hitters in their 61-year history. Among them are a combo effort in 2003 that was started by Weir’s Roy Oswalt and finished by former Jackson Generals star Billy Wagner and a true no-no in 1986 by ex-Jackson Mets ace Mike Scott. … Oswalt, incidentally, pitched for both the Astros (10 seasons) and Phillies (two) and aided in postseason runs by both clubs. A Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, he won 163 games, second only to Guy Bush among state natives, in a stellar big league career. … Today is the 69th birthday of Sunflower native Larry Herndon, who played 14 years in the majors and won a World Series ring with Detroit in 1984. Herndon, who went to high school in Memphis and attended Tennessee State, batted .274 with 107 homers and 92 steals as an outfielder with St. Louis, San Francisco and the Tigers. In Game 1 of the ’84 Series against San Diego, Herndon hit a go-ahead two-run homer that propelled the Tigers to victory. He went 5-for-15 in the five-game series. He coached in the Detroit system in 2022. … Props to former Mississippi Braves Dansby Swanson and Max Fried and Biloxi Shuckers alum Trent Grisham for winning National League Gold Gloves. … Chris Ellis, the ex-Ole Miss and M-Braves standout, has elected free agency after being dropped from Baltimore’s 40-man roster. Ellis, 30, missed virtually the entire ’22 season with a shoulder injury.
Hopping in the Wayback Machine for a trip to three World Series past, each celebrating an anniversary this fall and each featuring Mississippi connections. Going back 90 years to 1932, we have New York Yankees vs. Chicago Cubs, a contentious Series swept by the Yankees and made famous by the “Called Shot.” Babe Ruth hit that legendary home run in Game 3. Guy Bush, “The Mississippi Mudcat,” played a tangential role. Aberdeen native Bush, a 19-game winner for the Cubs in 1932, started Game 1 at Yankee Stadium and got shelled: eight runs in 5 1/3 innings. At Wrigley Field for Game 3, in the fifth inning with the score tied at 4-4, Ruth came to the plate. Players on the Cubs bench reportedly were riding Ruth hard; Bush was one of their most vociferous bench jockeys. Ruth made a gesture with a finger, possibly pointing toward center field, possibly pointing at the Cubs’ bench. Accounts differ, but not about what happened next. He homered to right-center field. New York won Game 3 7-5. Bush started again in Game 4. In the first inning, he gave up two hits, hit Ruth with a pitch, yielded a sac fly and walked the next batter. He was pulled. His ERA for the series: 14.29. Three years later, as fate would have it, Bush yielded the last two home runs of Ruth’s career, ensuring that the pair will be forever linked. … Sixty years ago, we have Yankees vs. San Francisco Giants, a seven-game classic that ended in OMG fashion. Jackson native Marshall Bridges, the “Sheriff,” was a relief pitcher for New York. Ex-Southern Miss star Jim “Peanut” Davenport played third base for the Giants. Neither had a great Series. Bridges posted a 4.91 ERA in two appearances, surrendering a grand slam to Chuck Hiller in a Game 4 loss. Davenport went 3-for-22 with one RBI. Both were watching when Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson snared Willie McCovey’s line drive to end Game 7, a 1-0 Yankees victory, with the winning run in scoring position. … Thirty years ago, in the 1992 Toronto-Atlanta Fall Classic, no Mississippi native or college alum saw the field. But a current Mississippi connection put on quite the show in a losing cause. It should come as no surprise perhaps that Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders, aka “Prime Time,” would thrive on the big stage for the Braves. Sanders played in four of the six games, going 8-for-15 with two walks, four runs, an RBI and five stolen bases. Oh, and he was also playing for the Atlanta Falcons that fall; he skipped a road football game (a 56-17 loss at San Francisco) to play for the Braves in Atlanta on Oct. 18, going 1-for-3 in the Game 2 loss. Strange but true. P.S. The Mississippi connection in this year’s World Series won’t take the field but will have a great view: Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is Philadelphia’s infield coach.
Philadelphia and Houston, headed for a World Series showdown, have met once before in the postseason — in the wild and wooly 1980 National League Championship Series. It was a best-of-5 that went the distance and then some, featuring four extra-inning games, ultimately won by the Phillies in the 10th inning of Game 5 at the Astrodome. One of the heroes of that dramatic 8-7 win was former Mississippi State star Del Unser, who entered the game as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning and produced two clutch hits, a big RBI and two huge runs. Unser, a Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, was an All-SEC and All-America outfielder at State, playing on two SEC title teams in the mid-1960s. He began a 15-year big league career with the Washington Senators in 1968. By 1980, he was 35 years old and a bench player — a pinch hitter extraordinaire — on a Phillies club that included Mike Schmidt, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa and Pete Rose. The lefty-hitting Unser batted .264 in 123 at-bats that season. In the NLCS, he was 0-for-3 before entering Game 5 with two outs and two on and the Phillies down 5-4. He singled off Ken Forsch to tie the score, then scored on a Manny Trillo triple that put the Phils up 7-5. Houston tied it in the bottom of the eighth. Unser came up again in the 10th with one out. He doubled off Frank LaCorte and scored what proved to be the game-winner on a double by Garry Maddox. The Phillies went on to win the World Series over the Kansas City Royals; Unser was 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two runs in that series. He retired after the 1982 season with a .258 career average, 481 RBIs and 617 runs. The 1980 postseason was the only one he ever played in. He certainly made the most of it.
The 2021 champions of the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves didn’t produce another trophy in 2022, finishing well off the pace in both halves of the Southern League season. What the M-Braves did produce were two players who made significant contributions in Atlanta’s playoff charge: likely National League rookie of the year Michael Harris II, who made the jump in May, and Vaughn Grissom, who followed in August. And that’s what the minor leagues are really all about. All told, nine M-Braves alums debuted in the big leagues in 2022 (not all with Atlanta): Harris, Grissom, Drew Waters, Shea Langeliers, Freddy Tarnok, Joey Meneses, William Woods, Bryce Elder and Joey Wentz. A 10th, Alan Rangel, was recalled in late September but did not appear in a game. In total, more than 160 have made their MLB debuts since the M-Braves arrived in Pearl in 2005. While the team limped in with a 62-74 overall record under first-year manager Bruce Crabbe, six 2022 M-Braves made Atlanta’s organizational All-Star team as selected by milb.com. First baseman Drew Lugbauer, a fringy prospect, opened eyes with his 28 home runs and 82 RBIs. However, he batted just .213 and struck out 212 times. Cody Milligan was the pick at second base, Justyn-Henry Malloy at third (though he played mostly left field in Mississippi), Andrew Moritz in the outfield and Jared Shuster and Justin Yeager as pitchers. The top hitter, statistically, on the ’22 club was shortstop Cade Bunnell, who seemingly came from out of nowhere to bat .301 with eight homers. Shuster, a highly rated prospect who finished the season in Triple-A, posted a 2.73 ERA, best among the M-Braves’ starters. Tanner Gordon led in wins with nine and Justin Maese in saves with 11. Looking to next year, shortstop Cal Conley, currently playing in the Arizona Fall League, is a name to know. The Texas Tech product hit .251 with 16 homers, 65 RBIs and 36 steals at High-Class A Rome. Another key player in 2023 figures to be outfielder Jesse Franklin, who began the year with the M-Braves but missed virtually all of the season with an injury. The M-Braves open the ’23 season on April 7 against Biloxi at Trustmark Park. P.S. The last time Philadelphia was in the National League Championship Series, back in 2010, former Weir High and Holmes Community College star Roy Oswalt was one of the three (four?) aces on the Phillies’ pitching staff. Acquired in a midseason trade from Houston, Oswalt went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA down the stretch for the National League East champs. The staff also featured Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick, but the Phils were knocked out by San Francisco. … Mississippi State product Adam Frazier, who helped Seattle end its 21-year playoff drought, will be a free agent after the World Series. A 2021 All-Star in Pittsburgh, the lefty-hitting second baseman had a down year in 2022, batting .238. … Former Jackson Mets standout Dave Magadan is out as hitting coach in Colorado, which has had four straight losing seasons. Magadan was the third baseman on the JaxMets’ 1985 Texas League championship club.
When the postseason starts, you can turn the page on the regular season. Adam Frazier did precisely that in Seattle’s Wild Card Series sweep against Toronto. Flushing a disappointing regular season, the former Mississippi State star capped a jaw-dropping comeback by the Mariners on Saturday with a go-ahead RBI double in the ninth inning. “Those are the kind of moments you picture yourself in in the backyard when you’re a kid,” Frazier told The Associated Press. The M’s 10-9 victory sends them into the American League Division Series against Houston. Frazier hit just .238 in his first year in Seattle. But one thing he has always done well is put the ball in play, something of a lost art. He struck out just 73 times in 541 at-bats in 2022, one of the best contact rates in MLB. In the Toronto series, he went 4-for-9, never fanning once. He was 3-for-5 with two runs in the clincher, helping Seattle overcome an 8-1 deficit. … Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin was the fifth of eight pitchers Cleveland used in its 1-0, 15-inning, series-clinching win against Tampa Bay. The sidearming right-hander got two outs in 10th inning, then left with “upper arm tightness.” His status for the next round is unclear. Fellow former Golden Eagles star Kirk McCarty, a rookie, was the only non-starter left in the Guardians’ bullpen when the game ended. … Corey Dickerson’s season is over, but Bobby Dickerson (no relation) is making plans for the next round. Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson went 2-for-6 for St. Louis as the Cardinals were bounced from the National League playoffs by Philadelphia. Laurel native Bobby Dickerson is the Phillies’ highly regarded infield coach; he got a shout-out Saturday from the ESPN broadcasters for his work with third baseman Alec Bohm. Philadelphia moves on to face Atlanta in the NLDS. … Trent Grisham, who played for the Biloxi Shuckers in 2018-19, homered for the second straight game and scored all of San Diego’s runs in a 7-3 loss to the New York Mets that evened their series. Game 3 is tonight at CitiField. Grisham, a .184 hitter this season with 17 bombs, took Max Scherzer deep in Friday’s win and got Jacob deGrom on Saturday. … Mets manager Buck Showalter, the MSU alum who has managed five different teams, won more than 1,600 games, claimed three manager of the year awards and appeared in six postseasons, has a 10-15 playoff record. He has yet to reach the World Series.
St. Louis runs out a lineup that includes Albert Pujols, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, but it would be way too obvious, way too boring, to pick one of them to be the hero in today’s Wild Card Series opener against Philadelphia. The Mississippi baseball aficionado might go with Corey Dickerson, the McComb native and Meridian Community College alum who’ll be playing left field and batting seventh at Busch Stadium. It’s hard to know what to expect from the 33-year-old Dickerson. He had an uneven season, batting .267 (career average: .281) with six homers and 36 RBIs in 97 games. He had an incredible August, batting .411 for the month and getting hits in 10 consecutive at-bats. But he endured an 0-for-26 slump in September, then began October with a grand slam on his son Davis’ eighth birthday. (He also homered on Davis’ seventh birthday. As Dickerson remarked in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, his son “needs to have more birthdays.”) Dickerson does have postseason experience, having gone 4-for-19 for Miami in 2020. He hit much better on the road (.321) than at Busch Stadium (.220) this season, but he is in the lineup as a lefty bat against Phillies righty Zack Wheeler. Unlikely heroes are not uncommon in baseball’s postseason. So, why not Dickerson? P.S. Neither Chris Stratton nor Dakota Hudson, both Mississippi State products and right-handed pitchers, made St. Louis’ initial postseason roster.
Chad Bradford was back in uniform (sorta) on Sunday as the Oakland A’s celebrated their 2002 team — Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” gang that won a then-record 20 straight games — before the club played the New York Yankees at Oakland Coliseum. Former Southern Miss and Hinds Community College star Bradford was a key member of that A’s team, posting a 3.11 ERA, four wins and two saves over 75 games. The submarine-style right-hander had a 3.26 ERA in 561 MLB games. … In a pregame ceremony at Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, Hattiesburg native Charlie Hayes threw a ceremonial first pitch to son Ke’Bryan Hayes before the Phillies played the Pittsburgh Pirates. The elder Hayes spent three of his 14 big league seasons with the Phils. Ke’Bryan Hayes, the Pirates’ third baseman, went 1-for-4 with an RBI in a 5-0 win. The duo reportedly will do another first-pitch thing at Yankee Stadium next month. Charlie Hayes won a ring with the 1996 New York Yankees. … Garrett Mitchell became the 56th Biloxi Shuckers alumnus to make the majors when the outfielder debuted for Milwaukee on Sunday, going 1-for-4 with two RBIs in a 9-7 win vs. the visiting Chicago Cubs. Mitchell, a former first-round pick from UCLA, played parts of the last two seasons with the Shuckers, who arrived on the Coast in 2015. … Dylan Moore, who played for both the Shuckers and the Mississippi Braves, hit a big three-run homer for Seattle on Sunday in a 4-0 win against Cleveland in a battle of playoff contenders. … M-Braves alum Drew Waters, who debuted with Kansas City last week, had two hits, two walks, two runs and two RBIs for the Royals in a 15-6 romp over San Diego. … Ex-M-Braves star Michael Harris II, who made the jump from Mississippi in May, went 4-for-4 for Atlanta in its 6-3 loss at St. Louis. It was the second four-hit game for the rookie of the year candidate, who is batting .298 with 13 homers, 45 RBIs and 15 steals. … George County High product Justin Steele, 4-7 with a 3.18 ERA for the Cubs this year, won’t make the trip to Toronto this week because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19. … Former USM star Matt Wallner belted his fourth homer for Triple-A St. Paul — and 25th bomb overall in 2022 — as the Minnesota affiliate beat Iowa in the International League. Ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Holder gave up four runs in an inning of work and took the loss for the I-Cubs; the onetime big leaguer has a 10.29 ERA in seven appearances. … Jackson Prep alum Will Warren improved to 7-4, with a 3.38 ERA, as the Yankees’ Double-A Somerset club beat New Hampshire in the Eastern League. Warren, drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana last year, went 2-3 in A-ball this season, his first pro duty.
The stolen base ain’t what it used to be, usurped by the home run at most levels of the game. Small ball generally has given way to the quest for power and the big inning. But speed can still be a valuable tool. And Mississippi has a long history of producing players who have it. From Cool Papa Bell — the Negro Leagues legend from Starkville who is credited with 285 official stolen bases — to Billy Hamilton — the Taylorsville product who has 321 career bags in MLB and once got a record 155 in a single season in the minors. Eight Mississippi natives, none currently active, have 150 or more steals in the majors, nine if you include Bell. Silento Sayles set a national high school record with 103 bags in 2013 at Port Gibson. Gulfport’s Marcus Lawton stole 111 bases in the minors in 1985, one of just a few to reach that milestone. Major league scouts still hunt speed, and it no doubt was a key factor in Philadelphia’s decision to draft South Panola High’s Emaarion Boyd in the 11th round of the 2022 draft. Boyd swiped two bases in a Florida Complex League game on Monday, giving him six in eight pro games. He is batting .333. Tishomingo County’s Spence Coffman, drafted in the 19th round by San Diego, also was rated as a plus-runner. He stole 17 bags as a prep senior but is 0-for-1 in four rookie-ball games. The current steals leader among Mississippians in the minors is James Beard, former Loyd Star standout, who has 25 bags at the Low-Class A level in the Chicago White Sox’s system. Beard was considered the fastest high school player available in the 2019 draft, and he went in the fourth round. Alas, he is hitting just .163 this year (.185 career), clouding his prospects for advancement. Jake Mangum, the ex-Mississippi State and Jackson prep star, was one of the fastest college players in the 2019 draft, and he went in the fourth round to the New York Mets, eight picks after Beard despite being a much more accomplished hitter. Mangum swiped 17 bases in 53 games in his pro debut and has 39 career bags. A .280 career hitter, he has reached Triple-A, knocking on the door to the big leagues. Speed is good, but without the hit tool, a player’s chances of advancement aren’t so good. To wit: Sayles, drafted by Cleveland, stole 36 bases in 200 minor league games but retired in A-ball with a .222 career average in 2017. Lawton, for all his speed, made it to the big leagues for just a cup of coffee (10 games in 1989) and finished with one career steal, 164 fewer than his brother Matt, not as fast but a better hitter. Wiggins native D.J. Davis, a first-round pick by Toronto in 2012, got 134 bags over seven seasons but never got past A-ball. Pontotoc’s Delvin Zinn stole 42 bases in A-ball last year but has seen his career stall in Double-A, currently batting .113 (with seven steals) at Tennessee in the Chicago Cubs’ system. Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray Jr., a second-rounder in 2018, has 17 steals in 110 games at the High-A level for Milwaukee but also has a .192 average. Pascagoula’s Willie Joe Garry stole 24 bases last year and has 12 this season in A-ball but is floundering around the .200 mark. Maybe someday, considering the radical changes MLB is making in the grand old game, there will be a designated runner, whose only job is to pinch run, ala Herb Washington, the Belzoni native who played such a role with the 1974-75 Oakland A’s. He stole 31 bases and never batted or played the field before being unceremoniously released.
Though prospects Michael Harris II, Vaughn Grissom, C.J. Alexander, Jared Shuster and Darius Vines, among others, have been plucked from their roster, the Mississippi Braves are still kicking. Atlanta’s Double-A club beat Tennessee 16-14 on the road Friday night and is 20-17, second place in the Southern League South in the second half. Recent arrival Javier Valdes, a catcher, is batting .353 with two homers and six RBIs in four games. Cade Bunnell, who has moved to shortstop to replace Grissom, is batting .400 with two homers and 10 RBIs in 14 games for the M-Braves. Outfielder Justyn-Henry Malloy, in 25 games since arriving from A-ball, is hitting .289 with three homers and 16 RBIs. And first baseman Drew Lugbauer, on the roster all season, leads the SL with 23 homers. If the pitching can hold up, this club appears to have the firepower to make a run at the second-half title and a playoff berth. … Overshadowed by the exploits of Harris and Grissom with Atlanta, Joey Meneses, another former M-Braves star, has had quite a debut in The Show himself. Playing for Washington, Meneses is batting .370 with four homers in eight games since being called up. The 30-year-old Mexico native, who played in Pearl in 2016-17, logged more than 3,000 at-bats over 11 years in the minors, hitting .281. “I feel like, up here, you have a little bit more energy and more motivation, obviously,” he told the Washington Post regarding his hot start. … Southern Miss product Chuckie Robinson had a great seat — the Cincinnati bench — for Thursday night’s Field of Dreams Game in Dyersville, Iowa. Called up for the first time in his pro career, he did not get in the game and is now back with Triple-A Louisville. Hopefully, that won’t be his only major league experience. … Former Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton was outrighted to Triple-A Jacksonville by Miami on Friday. Used primarily as a pinch runner, the veteran Hamilton scored nine runs and stole seven bases in 20 games but had just one hit in 13 at-bats. … Ex-South Panola standout Emaarion Boyd, one of two prep players drafted out of the state in July, is 2-for-5 with two walks and a caught stealing in two games for Philadelphia’s Florida Complex League team. The 11th-round pick was considered one of the fastest players in the 2022 draft.
There is a three-team battle going on in the American League Central, and a bunch of Magnolia State products were on the frontlines Tuesday in three different skirmishes. Start in Boston, where former Southern Miss pitcher Kirk McCarty, making just his fourth big league appearance, delivered four shutout innings and got his first MLB win in Cleveland’s 8-3 victory at Fenway Park. “It’s special,” said McCarty, who in the last couple weeks was claimed on waivers by Baltimore and then reclaimed by the Guardians. The left-hander allowed just one hit and one walk while fanning four. He followed fellow former Golden Eagles star Nick Sandlin in what was a bullpen game for Cleveland. Sandlin, who has a 2.81 ERA, got the last two outs of the third inning. The Guardians (49-47) moved to within 2 1/2 games of first-place Minnesota (52-45) in the AL Central after the Twins lost at Milwaukee. The Brewers gave former Mississippi State star Ethan Small his second big league start, and it was a little rough, much like his first one back in May. Small yielded a leadoff home run to Byron Buxton, three more hits, four walks and two more runs in 3 2/3 innings. He has a 7.11 ERA in his two MLB games. However, the Brewers, the first-place team in the National League Central, rallied to win 7-6, aided by ex-State slugger Hunter Renfroe’s 17th home run. Meanwhile, the Chicago White Sox (49-48, 3 games back in the AL Central) kept pace with their third straight win, beating Colorado at Coors Field 2-1. Ex-State standout Kendall Graveman worked a scoreless eighth inning for Chicago, notching his 15th hold. East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, the ChiSox’s All-Star shortstop, had a hand in all four of the double plays the team turned in that game. P.S. Props to former Mississippi Braves manager Brian Snitker for notching his 500th win with Atlanta on Tuesday. His club, the reigning World Series champion, has won four straight NL East titles. … South Panola High product Emaarion Boyd, one of the two prep players drafted (11th round) out of the state last week, reportedly has signed with Philadelphia. He is the seventh player of 23 drafted to sign, according to mlb.com (see previous posts).