Start me up: Lee makes 1st big league start in World Series

National Sports

Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Dylan Lee leaves the game during the first inning in Game 4 of baseball’s World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

ATLANTA (AP) — Twenty-nine days after his major league debut, Dylan Lee walked onto the Truist Park mound for his first big league start. In the World Series.

His major league resume consisted of 80 pitches to 21 batters, just 29 to nine hitters during the regular season.

Lee lasted just 15 pitches for the Atlanta Braves against the Houston Astros. The 27-year-old left-hander faced four batters and allowed one run while getting one out Saturday night, the shortest start in the Series since the Yankees’ David Wells in Game 5 of 2003.

In his first start at any level in more than four years, Lee didn’t get a decision and came away with a 27.00 ERA.

All eight position players were on the field before Lee ran in from the bullpen like a reliever, wearing bright, red spikes. He threw just five strikes, allowed Jose Altuve’s infield single on his first offering and left with the bases loaded from walks to Michael Brantley and Yordan Alvarez around Alex Bregman’s strikeout on 2-2 changeup.

Brian Snitker waited until Saturday afternoon to notify Lee of the surprise start.

“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.”

Altuve grounded to shortstop on a 94.1 mph fastball and beat Dansby Swanson’s off-line throw for an infield hit.

Kyle Wright started warming up after Lee’s second pitch, a plan that seemed predetermined. Lee stared as Snitker came to the mound and the pitcher handed his manager a pair of baseballs — one returned by catcher Travis d’Arnaud plus one thrown to him by umpire Dan Bellino.

Astros manager Dusty Baker talked earlier in the day about how much the sport had changed since his playing days.

“I grew up watching Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal and all the greats,” he 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.”

No one before had made his first big league start in the World Series. 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 Bystom and the Mets’ Steven Matz.

Lee’s previous start was on July 23, 2017, when he pitched five innings for Class A Greensboro against Asheville in a no-decision.

Openers have become the rage in Major League Baseball — some say infected it — since the Tampa Bay Rays popularized the tactic in 2018. General managers, backed by analytics departments, said data demands the innovation.

For most of baseball history, four-man rotations were standard and starting pitchers took the mound with three days’ rest. Five-man rotations and four days’ rest became the norm for a majority of teams in 1975.

Just 41 pitchers made 30 starts this season and seven tied for the lead with 33. That was down from 60 making 30 starts in 1974, when Wilbur Wood led with 41.

“In this age where some guys, they break, and it’s just hard … to keep enough stable of starting pitching that you can use,” Snitker said.

Ahead 2-1 in the Series, the Braves were short on starting pitchers even before Charlie Morton broke a leg in Tuesday’s Game 1. Atlanta was planning to string together relievers in Games 4 and 5 and had Max Fried and Ian Anderson available for possible Games 6 and 7.

Lee, a 10th-round pick by Miami in the 2016 amateur draft from Fresno State, 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 against he New York Mets, allowing one hit in a scoreless eighth inning with the Braves trailing by two runs.

Lee then entered in the eighth the next day with the Braves ahead by five runs and gave up Francisco Lindor’s triple and Michael Conforto’s home run.

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.

“They play so much baseball now, I think at a young age. And I think that’s part of why, to me, they break,” Snitker 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.”

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