Lee gives team a Wyoming presence again


Wyoming has been fertile ground for the Orioles.

Mark Lee, a relief pitcher called up Thursday from Triple-A Rochester, is the third player in recent years from the Equality State, following Jeff Ballard and Mike Devereaux.

Lee and Devereaux played on the same American Legion team that won the Wyoming state championship three straight years, two of them over a team that featured Ballard as the ace pitcher.

All has not been equal for Wyoming's diamond stars.

Ballard, a year older than Devereaux and Lee, made it to the major leagues to stay in 1987 and was an 18-game winner in 1989.

That was the same year Devereaux came over from the Los Angeles Dodgers and established himself as the Orioles' starting center fielder.

Lee spent a decade bouncing between the majors and minors. Five organizations, an arm injury and three major-league stints later, he has a shot with the Orioles, who signed him as a free agent in November.

Lee, who has not been in the majors since 1991, never gave up hope.

"If you don't think you're going to get a shot, it's kind of hard to keep playing," Lee said.

Lee got a shot last night, relieving starter Scott Klingenbeck and pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Entering the game in the sixth with one out, a runner on second and the Orioles leading 5-4, Lee struck out J. T. Snow on an inside fastball and got Jim Edmonds to ground out to second.

Lee continued to spot his high-80s fastball but ran into trouble in the seventh. He gave up a leadoff double to Spike Owen, then got Jorge Fabregas to fly to center and Gary DiSarcina to ground to first. Lee walked Tony Phillips, but Damion Easley's fielder's choice ended the inning.

Lee had a brief stay with the Kansas City Royals in 1988, making four appearances. He needed rotator cuff surgery in 1989 and didn't resurface in the majors until the Milwaukee Brewers called him up late in 1990.

He hasn't been on a major-league team since. Until now.

Orioles manager Phil Regan has big plans for him, defining his role yesterday in a pre-game meeting.

"Mark Lee is our left-hander," Regan said, "coming in anywhere from the fifth to seventh innings."

Regan said he can depend on Lee because, unlike departed youngsters Armando Benitez and Brad Pennington, Lee throws strikes.

This season, Lee, 30, had a 4-2 record, a 1.57 ERA and three saves at Rochester. He walked five, struck 35 and did not allow a home run in 28 2/3 innings. Opponents batted .176.

"He came here and did an outstanding job," farm director Syd Thrift said from Rochester. "He did the same

thing last year. He had a spring that was just fair. Since the season's started, he's turned it up a notch."

Thrift, farm director for the Chicago Cubs last season, is the main reason Lee's with the Orioles. Thrift was impressed with Lee's numbers (1-3, 3.38, 10 saves) at Triple-A Iowa last season and knew that Rochester needed a left-handed reliever.

The left-hander from Casper, Wyoming, an oil and mining town of about 70,000 people, has a career that seems to be on the upswing just when those of his former American Legion pals are on the wane.

Ballard last pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates before a car wreck early this year ended his career. Devereaux is trying to restart his career with the Chicago White Sox.

Lee is happy just to receive another major-league opportunity.

"The first time I went to the big leagues, I didn't know what was going on," Lee said. "I'm 30 years old now, but arm feels better than when I was 23 or 24."

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