A memorable meal: Lee recalls moment MLB dream came true

June 1st, 2022

NEW YORK -- Evan Lee and his teammates on the Double-A Senators were watching the Nationals game over dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings in Erie, PA., when manager Tripp Keister posed a question to the left-hander.

“He was like, ‘Hey man, can you pitch on Wednesday?’” Lee recounted. “‘I was like, ‘Yeah, I can pitch on Wednesday.’ He said, ‘How about at Citi Field?’ And I was just like, ‘Well, of course I can!’”

The Nationals were in need of a spot starter for Wednesday’s series finale against the Mets after last Friday’s game vs. the Rockies was postponed because of rain and played as a doubleheader on Saturday. Lee -- ranked as the Nats’ No. 17 prospect per MLB Pipeline -- had been on their 40-man roster since being protected from the Rule 5 Draft in November, and he was turning heads this season with a 3.60 ERA across seven starts with Harrisburg.

Five days after pitching at FNB Field against the Altoona Curve, Lee bypassed the Triple-A level and took the mound 185 miles away to face Washington's hot-hitting NL East rival. The 24-year-old tossed 3 2/3 innings with two strikeouts, allowing two runs on four hits and three walks in the Nationals’ 5-0 loss.

“I like what I saw out of Lee,” manager Dave Martinez said. “He was good. He threw some strikes, he’s got good stuff. He’ll probably get another opportunity in five days to go back out there and start again. I like him. He was very poised. … I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch again.”

Of his 67 pitches, Lee noted there were 12 to 15 he considered “uncompetitive” that he would like to have had back, including fastballs that were “a little excited to the front side.” By the time he held his first postgame interview as a Major Leaguer, he already had sought out advice from his veteran teammates on attacking the strike zone without trying to be too perfect.

“It was special to achieve a lifelong dream and to go out there and have some success,” Lee said. “I wish I had a couple pitches back from the outing, and there were a couple batters that I feel like I fell behind when I needed to get ahead in some certain scenarios. But overall, I feel like as far as a first debut, I’ll take it.”

The Nationals selected Lee out of the University of Arkansas in the 15th round of the 2018 MLB Draft. A former two-way player, Lee has been a dedicated pitcher in Washington’s organization. He became the 22nd pitcher drafted and signed by the Nationals (2005-present) to start a big league game for the club.

“I can’t thank the Nationals enough for the opportunity to go out here and pitch against the Mets,” said Lee. “Hats off to the player development of the Nationals because, coming out of college, I didn’t have much experience as a pitcher and they built me into who I am. I hope that I made them proud today.”

After traveling with the Nationals to their next series in Cincinnati, Lee has new teammates to go out to dinner with. But that experience at the Erie Buffalo Wild Wings is one he will remember -- and he won’t forget the meal any time soon, either.

"Just to be able to know that you're going to toe that rubber at Citi Field watching the game, it was exciting,” Lee said. “Good burger, too."