06 Jul

change in the wind?

The zero is gone. Maybe the luck has changed, too. Justin Steele, the lefty from Lucedale, winless in 12 starts this season for the Chicago Cubs, got on the board Friday and did it in emphatic fashion. Steele threw a two-hitter at the Los Angeles Angels in a 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field. He walked two, fanned seven. He threw just 95 pitches, only four in locking down the W in the ninth inning. It was Steele’s first career complete game in 76 starts over four seasons. As he jogged to the mound for the ninth, the p.a. played his walk-out song, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” and the Wrigleyville crowd got loud. “It was a special moment. Something I’ll never forget,” Steele said in an mlb.com piece. Steele won 16 games for the Cubs in 2023 and made the All-Star Game. The George County High product got hurt in the season opener this year, went on the injured list and endured nothing but tough luck after his return — before Friday, that is. He is now 1-3 despite a 2.95 ERA. Today at Wrigley there is a Justin Steele bobblehead giveaway. Talk about good timing. … Steele’s complete game was the first by a Mississippi native in MLB since Brandon Woodruff tossed one on Sept. 11 of last year. There were none in 2022. For the record — and as an indicator of how the game has changed — the career mark for complete games by a Mississippian is 188 by Claude Passeau (1935-47). Guy Bush (1923-45) posted 151. Roy Oswalt (2001-13) had 20. P.S. From all indications, Colt Keith has found his power midway through his rookie season. The former state player of the year from Biloxi High hit two 400-foot home runs Friday for Detroit, fueling a 5-4 win at Cincinnati. Lefty hitter Keith, 6 feet 2, 211 pounds, now has seven bombs on the year, four in his last 15 games. He didn’t hit his first MLB homer until May 24. A fifth-round pick in 2020, Keith hit 38 homers over his three minor league seasons.

04 Oct

thrill-ing start

On this date in 1989, in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, Will Clark enjoyed one of the greatest single-game performances in postseason history. Living up to his nickname, “The Thrill,” the former Mississippi State All-America went 4-for-4 with two home runs, six RBIs and four runs, leading the San Francisco Giants to an 11-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Both of the homers — one a grand slam — and all of the RBIs came in the first four innings against Cubs ace Greg Maddux. “Clark had a helluva week tonight,” Cubs manager Don Zimmer told the Chicago Tribune after the game. Clark didn’t stop mashing after Game 1. He went 13-for-20 (an eye-popping .650 average) with eight RBIs and eight runs as the Giants won the best-of-7 series in five games. In the deciding game, a 3-2 win at Candlestick Park, Clark went 3-for-4 and broke a tie with a two-run hit in the eighth inning against nasty lefty Mitch Williams. Yes, Clark was named the NLCS MVP. Alas, he didn’t fare as well in the ’89 Fall Classic, going 4-for-16 with no RBIs as the Giants fell to Oakland in the so-called Earthquake Series. Though he never won a Series ring, Clark was a man for the postseason, batting .333 with five homers and 16 RBIs over 31 games with three different teams.

04 Sep

come monday

This was so cool. Watching Lucedale native Justin Steele, the Chicago Cubs ace, mow down the San Francisco Giants today on MLB Network and this happened: After Steele punched out the last batter in the top of the seventh inning to roars at Wrigley Field, the Cubs played a video of the late, great Jimmy Buffett, another Mississippi native, singing the traditional “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” anthem from the press box during a game in 1998. Wearing Harry Caray-replica glasses, Buffett punctuated his rendition with Caray’s pet phrase “Let’s get some runs.” And, of course, the Cubs did, scoring twice in the seventh to take a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-0 win. Only baseball, it seems, can deliver moments like this. For the record, Steele went eight, allowing two hits and two walks, striking out a career-high 12 and running his record to 16-3.

30 Aug

steele-y performance

No Mississippi native has won a Cy Young Award. Justin Steele, the left-hander from Lucedale, is building a mighty strong case. Steele threw six shutout innings Tuesday night to lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 victory against Milwaukee at Wrigley Field. The former George County High star has 15 wins, tied for the National League lead, and a 2.69 ERA, second in the loop. He also has a league-best 18 quality starts, perhaps none bigger or better than Tuesday’s. The Cubs’ win snapped the first-place Brewers’ nine-game win streak and trimmed second-place Chicago’s deficit to 4 games in the NL Central. Steele was struck in the left leg, just above the knee, by a line drive in the second inning but, unfazed, went on to throw 111 pitches, allowing just six hits and one walk while fanning eight. When he got a punch out for the final out of the sixth, he walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the 33,294 at the Friendly Confines. “I loved it. I love pitching in that environment,” Steele told mlb.com. Steele out-dueled former Biloxi Shuckers ace Corbin Burnes, a former Cy Young winner (2021), who pitched seven brilliant innings for Milwaukee. … Cliff Lee, a Meridian Community College alum from Arkansas, won the American League Cy Young in 2008 with Cleveland. Former Jackson Mets standout Mike Scott won the NL award in 1986 with Houston. The award was initiated in 1956. P.S. The AL West race sure looks like fun. Seattle, Texas and Houston are tied at the top after Tuesday’s results. Mississippi State product J.P. France picked up his 10th win for the Astros, going 5 2/3 (two runs) to beat Boston 6-2 at Fenway Park. France gained a measure of revenge against the Red Sox, who pounded the rookie right-hander for 10 runs in a loss last week. Ex-State star Chris Stratton got the final two outs of the sixth inning, stranding two inherited runners, to pluck the win for Texas, which beat the New York Mets 2-1 at CitiField. Stratton has a 2.00 ERA in 11 games for the Rangers.

15 Aug

the stars come out

A long, long time ago – well, 40 years or so – Don Kessinger roamed the infield dirt at Wrigley Field as an All-Star shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. Today, his grandson Grae Kessinger will stand in the same spot. The younger Kessinger, also a shortstop, will participate in the Under Armour All-America Game at the Friendly Confines in Chicago. Kessinger, 6 feet 2, 180 pounds, batted .354 with 36 RBIs and 45 runs as a junior in 2015 for state champion Oxford High. He is committed to Ole Miss, where both his grandfather and father, Kevin, played. … Also in the Under Armour game is Starkville’s A.J. Brown, who is just the second player to participate in both the Under Armour baseball and football all-star games. Brown, 6-2, 220, a heavily recruited wide receiver, plays center field in baseball and hit .344 with 30 runs and 12 steals for Starkville this past season. He says he want to play both sports in college. Today’s game will be televised by MLB Network at 3 p.m. … George County High’s Walker Robbins is slated to play in Sunday’s Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego. Robbins, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman/pitcher, batted .348 with four homers and 28 RBIs and went 8-2 with a 1.47 ERA as a junior this past season. A Mississippi State commit, Robbins was MVP of the MHSAA Juniors All-Star Game at Trustmark Park in June. Robbins is the younger brother of Mason Robbins, the ex-Southern Miss star now playing in the Chicago White Sox’s system. The All-American Classic will be televised by MLB Network at 7 p.m.