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.
Thanks to Rule 5.05(a)(8), Hunter Renfroe’s place in postseason history is secure. The Crystal Springs native and ex-Mississippi State standout will forever be linked to the quirky rule that had a major impact in Sunday’s American League Division Series game at Boston. In the 13th inning, with the go-ahead run at first base and two outs, a batted ball hit the short right-field wall at Fenway Park, caromed off the hip of Renfroe, the right fielder who was giving pursuit, and then went over the wall. For a few moments, confusion reigned. Apparently, no one involved had ever seen this happen before. Fenway is one of the few ballparks where something like that is even possible. Had the ball remained in play, the runner would have scored easily and the batter, Tampa Bay’s Kevin Kiermaier, likely would have made third. But the umpires got together and correctly applied Rule 5.05(a)(8), which states that a bounding fair ball unintentionally deflected out of play by a fielder is a ground-rule double. That put the runners at second and third. The score remained tied. Fair or not, the rule is the rule. Nick Pivetta then struck out the next batter, concluding his four shutout innings. In the bottom of the 13th, after Renfroe drew a one-out walk, Christian Vazquez gave Boston a 6-4 win and a 2-1 series lead with a homer over the Green Monster. … Meanwhile, in Chicago, in the other ALDS Game 3, things got a little wacky, as well, as the White Sox rallied from 5-1 down in the third inning to beat Houston 12-6 and stay alive in the best-of-5. The White Sox’s decisive three-run fourth was ignited by — who else? — Tim Anderson. The East Central Community College star led off with an infield single and eventually scored the go-ahead run. (And, yes, there was a quirky deflected-ball play later in that inning.) For his part, Anderson went 3-for-6 with two runs and an RBI Sunday and is now batting .467 in the series. … There are four games on tap today. Something crazy, something you’ve never seen before, is almost guaranteed to happen. That’s baseball.
Lance Lynn gets the start for Chicago in today’s American League Division Series opener, which arguably is the most important game in a best-of-5. Lynn may have gone to Ole Miss, but the big right-hander is a bulldog on the mound. He went 11-6 with a 2.69 ERA for the White Sox this season, working 157 innings in 28 starts, and was considered a Cy Young Award candidate at one point. “He’s going to come at you,” White Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal told the Chicago Tribune, “he’s going to pressure you and you’d better be ready when he’s on the mound.” Lynn’s one appearance against Houston did not go well: six runs in four innings back in June. Expect him to use that as motivation. Lynn has a wealth of postseason experience, having pitched in 26 games going back to his rookie year of 2011, when he won a ring as a reliever with St. Louis. Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star, will lead off the game for the White Sox; he was hot down the stretch and went 9-for-14 in his first MLB postseason in 2020. Ocean Springs High alum Garrett Crochet, a lefty reliever, and Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton, a reserve outfielder, could also play valuable roles for Chicago. But Lynn is the one to watch today. …
Hunter Renfroe feasted (.338, four homers, 18 RBIs) on Tampa Bay pitching this season, perhaps motivated by the fact the Rays cut him loose after last season. The ex-Mississippi State standout, who batted .259 with 31 homers and 96 RBIs in 2021, will be somewhere in the middle of Boston’s lineup — and in right field — in tonight’s ALDS. Renfroe has limited postseason experience, but he hit two homers for the Rays last fall during their run to the World Series and went 1-for-3 in the pressure-cooker AL Wild Card Game vs. New York on Monday. He brings game-changing power, even in a pitcher’s park like Tropicana Field.
Here’s a very interesting and very telling statistic about the 2021 Chicago White Sox: Heading into the first game of a twinbill at Cleveland today, the White Sox were 32-4 when Tim Anderson drove in at least one run. So, yeah, it was a pretty good omen when the former East Central Community College star led off with a home run. The White Sox (86-66) rolled on to a 7-2 victory that clinched the American League Central championship, their first in 13 years. Anderson finished 3-for-4 with two homers and four RBIs. For the year, the dynamic All-Star shortstop is batting .306 with 16 bombs, 58 RBIs, 90 runs and 17 stolen bases. He might not be the league MVP, but he is certainly the straw that stirs the ChiSox’s drink. Former Ocean Spring High standout Garrett Crochet got a couple of outs in the game. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn and Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, both contributors in their first year with the club, didn’t play but were on the field for the largely subdued postgame celebration. They had another game to play.
Capping a rapid rise through the minor leagues this season, Colby White made his Triple-A debut on Sunday, pitching 1 2/3 innings in relief for the Durham Bulls. The former Mississippi State star began his second year in pro ball at the Low-A level for Tampa Bay, advanced to High-A, then Double-A and got the promotion to Durham last week. “This is my first full season, and I’m in Triple-A,” the 2019 draftee told The Columbian-Progress of Columbia. “It’s pretty cool.” White played at West Marion High and Pearl River Community College before signing with MSU, where he posted a 3.12 ERA in 27 games in 2019 on a staff that included Ethan Small, J.T. Ginn and Cole Gordon. Tampa Bay drafted the hard-throwing right-hander in the sixth round, and he made 15 appearances at the rookie level that summer. After the 2020 COVID-19 hiatus, White has been nothing short of sensational this season: 1.49 ERA, 10 saves, 93 strikeouts and 12 walks in 54 1/3 innings over the four levels. He reportedly touched 100 mph in an outing with Montgomery at Trustmark Park in Pearl last week. P.S. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn returned from an injured list stint (knee) on Sunday to throw five scoreless innings for the Chicago White Sox against Boston. He yielded two hits, no walks and fanned nine. Ocean Springs native Garrett Crochet followed Lynn and got five outs in a game the first-place White Sox would win 2-1 on Leury Garcia’s walk-off homer. … Former State standout Brandon Woodruff (9-8, 2.48) was held out of a slated start on Sunday for first-place Milwaukee because of a stomach ailment. He’ll go Wednesday. … Ex-Bulldogs ace Dakota Hudson, rehabbing in St. Louis’ system (see previous posts), went five innings Sunday and got a win for Double-A Springfield.
Far from the MLB playoff races, where teams are looking to next year and players are seeking to make good impressions, the Chicago Cubs met the Minnesota Twins at Target Field on Wednesday. Justin Steele, the former George County High star, made one of those good impressions. The Cubs’ rookie left-hander threw five shutout innings for his first win since shifting from the bullpen to the rotation. Relying mainly on two different fastballs, Steele allowed one hit, walked three, hit a batter and fanned three in the 3-0 victory. “I thought the fastball looked electric, to be honest with you,” Cubs manager David Ross said in an mlb.com story. Steele, who has made four starts, is 3-2 with a 3.48 ERA overall in 15 games for the fourth-place Cubs. Drafted in 2014, the 26-year-old Steele logged over 300 innings in an injury-plagued minor league journey before making his big league debut on April 12. Meanwhile, for the last-place Twins, ex-Mississippi State star Brent Rooker was a bright spot, getting the club’s only two hits, both singles. Rooker, also looking to make an impression for 2022, is batting .201 with six homers in 38 games. Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford, hoping to secure a 2022 job with Pittsburgh, hit his second homer of the season in the last-place Pirates’ loss to the Chicago White Sox. The oft-injured Alford is batting .180 in 23 games. MSU product Nate Lowe, toiling for last-place Texas, went 1-for-3 in a loss to Colorado. Lowe is batting .321 over his last 15 games and .261 with 14 homers on the season, his first with the Rangers. P.S. Mississippi State alum Will Bednar, the first Mississippian picked in this year’s draft (14th overall), made his pro debut on Monday, working a 1-2-3 inning for San Francisco’s Arizona Complex League club. … The White Sox put shortstop Tim Anderson on the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring issue; the former East Central Community College star, an MVP candidate, had missed several games recently with sore legs.
Yes, it was a Clint Eastwood/spaghetti Western kinda day for Mississippians in the majors. To wit:
Good: Brandon Woodruff threw six strong innings for Milwaukee in a 6-2 win Tuesday night at San Francisco in a matchup of first-place teams. Woodruff, the ex-Mississippi State star from Wheeler, allowed five hits, three walks and one run with eight strikeouts in running his record to 9-7. He has 15 starts this season in which he has gone at least six innings and allowed one run or fewer. The win was the Brewers’ second straight against the Giants, who lead all National League clubs with an 84-48 mark. “Coming in here and winning the first two is huge against essentially the best team in baseball,” Woodruff said in an Associated Press article.
Bad: Ole Miss product Lance Lynn and former State star Mitch Moreland, both playing for postseason contenders, landed on the 10-day injured list. Lynn, who has 10 wins for the Chicago White Sox, has a knee problem but is expected to miss just one start for the first-place club. Moreland, who has struggled (.227) much of the season for Oakland, has a wrist injury (tendinitis) that had sidelined him since Aug. 26. He could be down for a while.
Ugly: Ex-State standout Kendall Graveman, facing the player he was traded for last month, gave up a grand slam that sunk Houston in a 4-0 loss to American League West rival Seattle. Capping an eight-pitch at-bat, Abraham Toro turned around a 98-mph sinker in the pivotal bottom of the eighth inning. “It’s crazy how this game, things work out and things line up …,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told mlb.com. Graveman (5-1), who retired just one of the five batters he faced, had allowed only five earned runs in 41 previous appearances (44 innings) with Seattle and then Houston. His ERA jumped to 1.79.
Boston will be without slugging outfielder Hunter Renfroe again tonight when it takes on first-place Tampa Bay in the opener of a big, four-game American League East series. Renfroe’s father and “best friend,” Todd, died from cancer last Thursday and the Crystal Springs native has been on bereavement leave since then. He had eight hits – four homers – over a seven-game stretch Aug. 17-25 and is batting .258 with 25 homers overall. Ex-Mississippi State star Renfroe was cut loose by the Rays after last season and signed as a free agent with the Red Sox. … Jarrod Dyson made his Toronto debut on Sunday, entering the game against Detroit as a pinch runner, then staying in to play center field. The Blue Jays are team No. 7 on the former Southwest Mississippi Community College standout’s career list. … Gulfport’s Bobby Bradley returned from the injured list for Cleveland over the weekend, going 2-for-9 in a series against Boston. Bradley is at .214 with 11 homers for the season with the Indians, clinging to wild card hopes in the AL. … Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin has been on Cleveland’s 10-day IL since Aug. 12 with no clear date for a return for the rookie right-hander. He reportedly is working out in Arizona. … Though there are no reports of an injury, MSU product Mitch Moreland did not leave the bench during the last three games of Oakland’s four-game series vs. the New York Yankees. Moreland is batting .227 with 10 homers. … Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton continued his rehab assignment at Triple-A Charlotte, going 1-for-3 Sunday. He is 3-for-19 with one stolen base in six games for the Chicago White Sox’s top affiliate. … Dakota Hudson, who had Tommy John surgery a year ago, made a rehab start for St. Louis’ Class A Palm Beach team on Saturday. The State product worked two scoreless innings, throwing 24 pitches and hitting 94 mph. … Former State star Jonathan Holder made his second rehab appearance of 2021 on Friday, yielding a homer in one inning for the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa club.
Lance Lynn came in second in the American League Cy Young race in a poll of mlb.com experts. The former Ole Miss standout is 10-3 with a league-best 2.20 ERA for the first-place Chicago White Sox. Mississippi State product Brandon Woodruff (8-7, 2.38 for first-place Milwaukee) got one first-place vote in the National League voting but finished outside the top five overall. … Boston placed Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe on the bereavement list on Thursday. It isn’t clear when Renfroe – batting .258 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs – will return to the team. … After the cancellation of the current homestand because of COVID-19 protocols, the Mississippi Braves have only one homestand remaining: Sept. 7-12 against Montgomery. The M-Braves are 58-39, best record in the Double-A South, with 18 total regular season games left. They visit Biloxi next week. … Keep an eye on former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, a fast-rising prospect (currently No. 12) in Detroit’s system. The state’s 2019 player of the year after moving to the Coast from Arizona, Keith was a fifth-round draft pick in 2020. A lefty-hitting third baseman, he has played at three levels in his pro debut season. He was batting .320 (.436 on-base percentage) in Low-A ball when the Tigers bumped him up to High-A West Michigan on Monday. … Ex-Ole Miss star Errol Robinson is now playing for Sioux City of the independent American Association. Robinson, drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, was with Cincinnati’s Double-A Chattanooga club (and hitting .213) when he was released earlier this month. Robinson reached Triple-A with the Dodgers and started this year with the Reds’ Triple-A team. … Millsaps College recently broke ground on a 6,000 square foot facility for indoor hitting, pitching and fielding practice. Also as part of the $1.8 million project, space in the existing Hall Activities Center will be converted into a 1,000 square foot player lounge. “This project is an important step in the upgrade of our baseball facilities,” Jim Page, coach of the NCAA Division III Majors since 1989, said in a school release.
Speed is the highlight tool in Jake Mangum’s bag. It was on full display Wednesday. The former Mississippi State star, playing center field for Double-A Binghamton, made three diving catches, one charging in, one going to his left and one to his right. (Check out the video on milb.com.) He also stole a base, his 12th of the season in 70 games for the New York Mets’ Double-A club, and just to show some versatility, belted his seventh home run in a 7-5 win at New Hampshire. Mangum is hitting .296 (.341 on-base percentage) with 21 doubles, four triples, 39 RBIs and 55 runs. The Flowood native was rated one of the fastest players in 2019 draft when the Mets took him – as an MSU senior – in the fourth round. Oddly enough, he has slipped off their Top 30 prospect chart. But if he keeps producing, that hardly matters. P.S. Loyd Star High alum James Beard was generally considered the fastest player in the 2019 draft, and he was picked in the fourth round, a few spots ahead of Mangum, by the Chicago White Sox. Now playing at Low-A Kannapolis, the 20-year-old Beard has nine steals and a .193 average in 63 games. … For the record, the top base-stealer among Mississippians in the minors in 2021 is Delvin Zinn, the ex-Itawamba Community College star now in the Cubs’ system. The fifth-year pro has 43 bags – 42 at High-A South Bend, one (in four attempts) in 17 games at Double-A Tennessee.