ATLANTA (AP) — Dylan Lee walked into the Atlanta Braves clubhouse about 2 p.m. on Saturday and was called into manager Brian Snitker’s office.
The 27-year-old left-hander was told he was making his first major league start six hours later.
In the World Series.
“I was shocked, of course,” Lee said.
Lee lasted just 15 pitches for the Braves in their 3-2 comeback win over the Houston Astros, which built a 3-1 Series lead.
Never before had a pitcher’s first big league start come in the World Series. Lee faced four batters and allowed one run while getting one out, the shortest Series start since the Yankees’ David Wells in Game 5 of 2003.
“My God, we put him in an unbelievable situation,” Snitker said. “Your first start in the big leagues is going to be in a World Series game, are you kidding me?”
Lee made his major league debut 29 days earlier and his resume consisted of 80 pitches to 21 batters, just 29 to nine hitters during the regular season.
In his first start at any level in more than four years, Lee didn’t get a decision and walked away with a 9.00 ERA in two Series outings.
“His command was off a little bit than what I’ve seen before, which is understandable,” Snitker said.
Snitker was short on starters because of Charlie Morton’s broken leg and planned bullpen nights for Games 4 and 5. The delayed notification of Lee was intentional.
“Just for his sake,” the manager said. “He probably wouldn’t have gotten any sleep because people have been texting him and his phone would have been going off all night.”
After finding out he was making his first start at any level since July 23, 2017, a five-inning outing for Class A Greensboro against Asheville, Lee passed the stunning development on to fiancée Courtney White.
“I told my fiancée and her family and my family that they should come a little early to the game,” he said.
Wanting to feel like it was a relief appearance, Lee asked Snitker to call bullpen coach Drew French to summon him into the game — even though it hadn’t started yet.
All eight position players were on the field when Lee ran in from the bullpen, wearing bright red spikes. He threw just five strikes, allowing Jose Altuve’s infield single on his first offering, a 94 mph fastball. Lee left with the bases loaded from walks to Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez around Alex Bregman’s strikeout on a 2-2 changeup.
Kyle Wright started warming up after Lee’s second pitch, a plan that was predetermined.
A sea change from the World Series of Dusty Baker’s playing days.
“I grew up watching Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal and all the greats,” the Astros’ manager said. “I remember as a kid, my dad used to say `Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,’ and you’d look forward to pitching matchups. There’s nothing better than an old-fashioned pitching matchup.”
Snitker, another baseball lifer, said pitching injuries are inevitable.
“They play so much baseball now, I think at a young age. And I think that’s part of why, to me, they break,” he said. “They never rest. These guys are going to barns and taking pitching lessons in the winter. Guys used to play basketball and football and pitch in the spring and whatever sport was in season was their favorite one. I think guys are majoring in pitching at a really young age.”
Lee’s two major league regular-season appearances were the fewest for a Series starting pitcher, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The previous low was six by Philadelphia’s Marty Bystrom and the Mets’ Steven Matz.
A 10th-round pick by Miami in the 2016 amateur draft from Fresno State, Lee was released by the Marlins in spring training and signed a minor league deal with the Braves in April.
He went 5-1 with a 1.54 ERA in 34 relief appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett. He made his big league debut on Oct. 1 and pitched again the following day. Not on the Braves’ initial two postseason rosters, he was activated for Game 4 of the NL Championship Series after right-hander Huascar Ynoa injured his pitching shoulder.
Having thrown the first pitch after “Play ball!” Lee doesn’t expect to be making his next start any time soon.
“I know that I’m a reliever now,” he said in the interview room as his teammates laughed.
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