VENICE, Fla. (AP) — Dylan Lee quickly agreed when asked to switch jersey numbers this spring, taking a new No. 89 because his old 74 is also newly signed closer Kenley Jansen's number.
“I'm pretty easygoing,” Lee said Friday. “I said I was more than happy to give it to a guy like Jansen.”
Lee could have protested. After all, is this any way to treat a World Series starting pitcher?
Five months later, the Braves' decision to have Lee start last season's World Series Game 4 against Houston is still shocking. After losing Charlie Morton in Game 1 to a broken leg, the Braves' staff was thin. Atlanta already had lost Huascar Ynoa, who was scratched with shoulder inflammation in the NL Championship Series win over the Dodgers. The loss of Ynoa opened a roster spot for Lee.
Even on a depleted staff, Lee was the most unlikely choice to start. He had never started a game in the major leagues and had made only two relief appearances for Atlanta.
Lee made history as the first pitcher to make his first major league start in the World Series. The left-hander has adopted a light-hearted approach to his place in history.
“Yeah, probably the shortest start, too, in the World Series,” Lee said with a laugh as he sat at his locker.
Lee recorded only one out and left with the bases loaded. Kyle Wright took over, allowing only one run in the inning, and the Braves rallied for a 3-2 win before clinching their first championship since 1995 in six games.
Lee will have to be content with only one World Series record. His start was not the shortest in World Series history. San Diego's Mark Thurmond also recorded only one out for the Padres in a Game 5 loss to Detroit in the 1984 World Series. Five pitchers have failed to record an out in World Series starts.
Lee's challenge was especially notable because he had not started a game at any level since 2017 for Class A Greensboro in Miami's farm system.
“It’s unbelievable,” Braves veteran left-hander Will Smith said Friday. “I couldn’t imagine being in those shoes. Good for him, though. That’s something he’ll remember the rest of his life.”
Lee, 27, is far removed from the World Series spotlight this spring. He's just trying to win a spot in a deep Atlanta bullpen strengthened by the additions of Jansen and Collin McHugh.
Lee spent most of last season at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he posted an impressive 1.54 ERA in 35 games.
The new 89 on his jersey serves as a reminder he has no guarantee of a spot on Atlanta's opening day roster. He pitched a perfect inning in his first appearance this spring and “threw really well” in a simulated game on Thursday, according to manager Brian Snitker.
Lee is accustomed to worrying about his roster spot. In fact, when Snitker called Lee into his office a few hours before the World Series game, Lee feared he was being sent home.
“I thought they were going to need my spot,” Lee said. “When he told me that I was starting, I was relieved I was still going to be a part of the team.”
At the time, Snitker said he delayed telling Lee of his new role because “he probably wouldn’t have gotten any sleep.”
The assignments this spring have been less stressful, though making the cut in the bolstered bullpen won't be easy. Lee says the pitching depth also extends to the starters.
“There are guys who start who can come in relief,” Lee said. “There are guys in the pen who can start. It’s going to be interesting to see how they lay it out.”
Interesting? Perhaps. But the Game 4 surprise will be difficult to top.
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