It’s unlikely to happen, but it would be kinda cool from a Magnolia State perspective. Tampa Bay faces the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series tonight, which means former Mississippi State teammates Hunter Renfroe and Jonathan Holder could face each other, possibly in a key spot. Renfroe, an outfielder, is not in the Rays’ lineup and has had just one at-bat, as a pinch hitter, in the series. Holder, a reliever, is down in the pecking order in a deep Yankees bullpen. But in an all-hands-on-deck kinda game, anything could happen. Renfroe, from Crystal Springs, and Holder, from Gulfport, were on one of the best teams State has ever had, the 2013 club that reached the finals of the College World Series, falling to UCLA. Renfroe was the hitting star, batting .345 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs. Holder was the closer, posting a 1.65 ERA and 21 saves. Renfroe was drafted that year in the first round by San Diego; Holder went in 2014 in the sixth round to the Yankees. Both are now big league vets. Holder had a 4.98 ERA this season, but that figure was inflated over his last three outings when he yielded eight runs in 4 1/3 innings. Renfroe hit eight homers for the Rays this season but was 0-for-14 against the Yankees and 0-for-1 vs. Holder. They faced off one other time: Holder struck out Renfroe in 2019, when Renfroe was with the Padres. Maybe a third matchup is in the stars for tonight. Unlikely, sure, but it would be kinda cool.
The Tampa Bay-New York series at San Diego’s Petco Park may have the look of a Mississippi State reunion for some, though these are two teams that really don’t get along. Former Bulldogs star Hunter Renfroe plays for the Rays and former State teammate Jonathan Holder for the Yankees; they are among the six Mississippians expected to be active for the second round of this unique MLB postseason. The openers of the two American League Division Series are today. Renfroe, who spent the first four years of his career playing home games at Petco, had an odd season, hitting just .156 with eight homers and 22 RBIs. He was 0-for-14 with eight strikeouts and three walks against Yankees pitchers. He was 0-for-1 vs. Holder. (MSU alum Nate Lowe, who batted .224 with four homers and 11 RBIs for the Rays after getting recalled in September, was left off the ALDS roster.) Holder, who had a 4.98 ERA in 18 appearances, worked five innings against the Rays, allowing four hits in 18 at-bats. He allowed one run, a homer by Mike Brosseau. On the National League side, MSU alum Mitch Moreland and Ole Miss product Drew Pomeranz are with San Diego, which faces Los Angeles beginning Tuesday, and ex-DeSoto Central High star Austin Riley and former Meridian Community College standout Corey Dickerson go head-to-head in the Atlanta-Miami series. P.S. Here’s a number to crunch: 29. That’s the number of Mississippians (natives or college alums) who appeared in a major league game in 2020. Of those 29, 16 are products of state high school programs. Three players made their debuts this season, Brent Rooker, Garrett Crochet and Demarcus Evans. The totals don’t include Justin Steele, former George County High star who was on the Chicago Cubs’ active roster for four days in early August but did not make an appearance. The full rundown: Hitters: Anthony Alford (Petal High); Tim Anderson (East Central CC); Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC); Brian Dozier (Southern Miss); Jarrod Dyson (Southwest CC); Adam Frazier (Mississippi State); Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville); JaCoby Jones (Richton); Nate Lowe (MSU); Mitch Moreland (MSU); Hunter Renfroe (MSU); Austin Riley (DeSoto Central); Brent Rooker (MSU); Pitchers: Aaron Barrett (Ole Miss); Cody Carroll, (USM); Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs High); Demarcus Evans (Petal High); Kendall Graveman (MSU); Jonathan Holder (MSU); Dakota Hudson (MSU); Lance Lynn (UM); Mike Mayers (UM); Drew Pomeranz (UM); Cody Reed (Northwest CC); Chris Stratton (MSU); Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central); Jacob Waguespack (UM); Bobby Wahl (UM); and Brandon Woodruff (MSU).
San Diego’s win over Seattle on Sunday was cause for two celebrations, though one was a little muted. The Padres, with Mississippi college products Mitch Moreland and Drew Pomeranz doing their part, clinched a playoff berth for the first time in 14 years by beating the Mariners 7-4 in 11 innings at Petco Park. Seattle’s loss handed the New York Yankees a playoff spot, though the Yankees weren’t really in a celebratory mood after losing to rival Boston 10-2 at Fenway Park. Mississippian Jonathan Holder, working in relief, took some lumps for New York in the defeat that snapped a 10-game win streak. For the Padres, who did party down Sunday, Amory native and Mississippi State alum Moreland went 2-for-5 with two runs and an RBI. His double in the 11th inning scored the go-ahead run. He has batted just .185 for San Diego since being acquired from Boston at the trade deadline. Ex-Ole Miss star Pomeranz made his 18th scoreless appearance for the Padres, working the seventh inning for his ninth hold. The Yankees’ Holder, an MSU product from Gulfport, has made 17 appearances in a secondary bullpen role and, after back-to-back rocky outings, has seen his ERA rise to 5.03. The hot-hitting Yankees, whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames (see previous post), are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year and still have a chance to catch American League East leader Tampa Bay. P.S. The sudden retirement of former Jackson Mets standout Ron Gardenhire as Detroit’s manager might open a door for Tupelo native and ex-Jackson State star Dave Clark to get the job. Currently the Tigers’ first base coach, Clark has been a candidate for several managerial posts in the past. He served as interim skipper for Houston at the end of the 2009 season and has managed in the minors. One has to wonder also if Thames’ name might come up.
Suddenly, it seems, the New York Yankees are hitting like the Bronx Bombers of old. Better, actually. The Yankees, who’ve won seven straight games after a major swoon, hit seven home runs Wednesday in a 13-2 win against Toronto at Yankee Stadium. They hit six homers on Tuesday. It’s the first time in franchise history – a history that includes Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, Maris, Jackson, et al. – that the Yanks have hit six-plus bombs in back-to-back games. New York is 28-21 heading into tonight’s game vs. the Blue Jays and has climbed to within 3 games of first-place Tampa Bay in the American League East. The Yankees, despite a spate of injuries, lead the league in homers and are second in runs and slugging. Some credit here has to go to hitting coach Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and former East Central Community College star who was a pretty good slugger in his MLB time. A big league hitting coach puts in a tremendous amount of work each day, from preparing scouting reports on the opposing pitchers to helping scuffling hitters make adjustments. In a Yankees Magazine article from 2018, Thames said he also plays the role of a mental coach. “Baseball is a game of failure, and guys need somebody to lean on,” he said. “Sometimes you come to the cages, and it’s not all about baseball; you talk about other things, too.” Evidence suggests Thames, in his third year in the job, is doing some good work here lately. “I would say the confidence has grown with every run that we put on the board,” outfielder Clint Frazier, who homered in Wednesday’s rout, told mlb.com. “We have 33 runs in the last two games. I think that speaks for itself.”
Can’t really ID the proverbial “defining moment” until a season is over, but Atlanta might have experienced that event on Wednesday. The New York Yankees led all of baseball in OPS (on base-plus-slugging) and were among the best with 5.4 runs per game heading into the doubleheader at Truist Park. Ian Anderson and Max Fried, a couple of recent Mississippi Braves standouts, held the Yanks to six hits and two runs over 12 combined innings as the Braves won 5-1 and 2-1. Former M-Braves Ronald Acuna, Dansby Swanson and Freddie Freeman hit big home runs as the Braves scored the sweep in games started by New York aces Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka. This day belonged to the Braves’ young guns, Anderson and Fried. Anderson, a strapping, 6-foot-3 right-hander making his MLB debut, started with five no-hit innings before Luke Voit took him deep in the sixth. Anderson walked two and fanned six. It was precisely the kind of step-up effort the Braves needed from one of their touted but untested young guns. In Game 2, left-hander Fried, an emerging ace at age 26, yielded four hits – only one extra-base knock – walked one and struck out five. He is 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA. Atlanta reached the midpoint of its season with an 18-12 mark, good for first place in the National League East. More work — more solid pitching — must be done, but there may come a day in October when the Braves will look back at Aug. 26 as their defining moment.
The competition is stiff for jobs in the New York Yankees’ bullpen, but Jonathan Holder is holding his own. Former Mississippi State and Gulfport High star Holder worked a clean inning against the Mets on Sunday night, his fifth scoreless appearance in exhibition play dating back to spring training. The 27-year-old right-hander has allowed two hits and no walks with six strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. This could be a pivotal year for Holder, now in his seventh pro season. After contributing solid stuff in the Bronx in 2017 and ’18, he took some lumps last year and wound up being shipped out to the minors in mid-summer. He returned and ultimately finished with a 6.31 ERA, roughly double his number from 2018. Holder would seem to be a safe bet to make the Yankees’ 30-man opening roster, filling a middle relief role. But jobs will be hard to keep when that roster gets trimmed, first to 28, then 26. P.S. Ex-Petal High standout Demarcus Evans was sent to Texas’ alternate training site on Sunday, meaning he won’t make the roster for the Rangers’ opener. Evans, 23, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound right-hander, pitched in high-A and Double-A ball in 2019, putting up a 0.90 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 60 innings. His big league debut can’t be far off. … Also, Ole Miss product Henri Lartigue, a catcher, was removed from Philadelphia’s 60-man list of eligible players and is no longer in camp.
The New York Yankees have a lot of history. A whole lot. To have your name associated with part of that history is pretty special. On this date in 1962, Jack Reed enjoyed his shining moment in the big leagues, one that endures in Yankees lore. The Silver City native hit a home run – his only big league homer – in the 22nd inning to give the Yankees a win over Detroit at Tiger Stadium in a game that lasted 7 hours. It remains the longest game in Yankees history by innings and time. Reed entered the game in the 13th inning and was 0-for-3 when he took Phil Regan deep for a two-run bomb. The game story in the New York Daily News called Reed “the weakest hitter on the club.” A two-sport star at Ole Miss, Reed had a 19-homer season in the minors, so he could hit a little. But in parts of three seasons with the talent-laden Yankees, he was used primarily as a defensive replacement in the outfield (often for Mickey Mantle), a pinch hitter and pinch runner. In 222 career games – just 18 starts – he batted .233 in 129 at-bats. He appeared in – but, alas, did not bat in — the 1961 World Series, which the Yankees won.
It has only happened 30 times in major league history. First career at-bat. First pitch. Home run. Louisville native Marcus Thames did it on this date in 2002. And he did it against a future Hall of Famer, no less: Randy Johnson. Thames was batting ninth for the New York Yankees before a crowd of 45,000-plus at Yankee Stadium. Johnson was pitching for Arizona in an interleague rematch of the 2001 World Series. Johnson threw a fastball up and over the middle and the right-handed hitting Thames deposited it over the left-center field wall. The two-run bomb in the third inning gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead – yes, Thames got a curtain call from the amped-up crowd — and the Yanks went on to beat the Diamondbacks 7-5. Thames, now the Yankees’ hitting coach, wasn’t drafted out of high school and wasn’t picked until the 30th round out of East Central Community College by the Yankees in 1996. Defying the odds, he went on to play parts of 10 MLB seasons. And that show of power on June 10, 2002, was no fluke. He hit a bunch of big home runs, 115 all told in the big leagues on top of 147 more in the minors. … Other notables on the list of batters to homer on the first pitch they saw: Bert Campaneris, Jay Bell, Kaz Matsui, Starling Marte and Willson Contreras, the last to do it in 2016.
Among the impressive pitching feats of 2019, this one deserves a special mention: Former Mississippi Braves left-hander Mike Minor and a pair of Texas relievers beat the New York Yankees 7-0 on Monday, handing the Bronx Bombers their first shutout in 221 games. The Yankees – whose hitting coach is Louisville native Marcus Thames — have averaged 5.8 runs per game this season. Minor worked 7 1/3 innings, scattering five hits, walking one and fanning five. One of the Yankees hitters called Minor’s four-pitch repertoire “nasty.” “We mixed every pitch,” Minor told mlb.com. “We didn’t get into any patterns. I felt like we attacked.” Minor, an All-Star this year, is 12-8 with a 3.12 ERA. He was a first-round pick by Atlanta out of Vanderbilt in 2009 and pitched for the M-Braves in 2010. He was 2-6, 4.03 but showed his stuff by striking out 109 in 87 innings. He debuted in the big leagues later that season. His career was derailed by injuries in 2015, but he has made a strong comeback the last two years with Texas.
Corey Dickerson and Drew Pomeranz have new addresses and new perspectives on their 2019 season. The Mississippi college products were among the slew of players traded on Wednesday, both moving to teams with designs on a division title. Former Meridian Community College standout Dickerson, an outfielder, was traded from last-place Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, which is still in the hunt in the National League East. Ole Miss product Pomeranz, a left-hander who can start or relieve, went from San Francisco, barely an NL wild card contender, to Milwaukee, which is in the thick of the NL Central battle. (Former Biloxi Shuckers shortstop Mauricio Dubon, a top Brewers prospect, went to the Giants as part of the Pomeranz deal.) Dickerson, who figures to play regularly for the Phillies, is a .285 career hitter with 107 homers. Now in his seventh MLB season, the former All-Star and Gold Glove winner is joining a fourth different team. Pomeranz, in his ninth big league season, is now with his seventh different organization. Also a one-time All-Star, he has a 4.09 career ERA, a 46-57 record, 14 holds and three saves. He is expected to work out of the Brewers’ bullpen. … Atlanta, in much-needed moves, added relievers Shane Greene (from Detroit) and Mark Melancon (Giants). In the Greene deal, the Braves parted with Mississippi Braves alums Joey Wentz (5-8, 4.72 for the current club) and Travis Demeritte. Former M-Braves standout Kolby Allard was traded to Texas on Tuesday for reliever Chris Martin. … Other Mississippians who were rumored to be on the block – Jarrod Dyson (Arizona), Billy Hamilton (Kansas City), Lance Lynn (Texas), Hunter Renfroe (San Diego) – stayed put. P.S. Former Mississippi State standout Jonathan Holder is back up with the New York Yankees after a second stint this season at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Holder has a 6.63 ERA in 32 MLB appearances.