NEW YORK – The feel-good story of the Uber driver-turned-big league pitcher came to a screeching halt Saturday when Twins starter Randy Dobnak was tagged from the get-go in the Yankees’ 8-2 victory in Game 2 of the ALDS.
“Nerves were fine,” Dobnak said. “I don’t know what it was.”
A week removed from his in-season wedding in Maryland, and with his new bride in the stands, Dobnak soaked in the mocking, taunting cheers of “Uber, Uber” from the bleacher crowd at Yankee Stadium when he limbered up in the outfield before Game 2.
“I figured that was going to happen,” he said, smiling. In fact, he asked his bullpen catcher: “How many Uber chants are we getting tonight?”
Dobnak looked loose, too, as he hopped over the third base line on the way to the mound. With his Fu Manchu mustache, big glasses and red-shaded shoes, No. 68 certainly stood out before throwing a pitch, even to those who didn’t know his back story.
Then, the Yankees geared up. Quickly, they drove Dobnak out of the game.
DJ LeMahieu sliced a leadoff double against Dobnak, and things didn’t improve much for the 24-year-old righty. He left with the bases loaded and no outs in the third inning, the start of a seven-run burst that made it 8-0.
His totals: two-plus innings, four runs on six hits and two walks without a strikeout. The Yankees didn’t chase his pitches out of the strike zone and swatted what they could reach.
“Every guy can swing it,” he said.
Dobnak, who hadn’t pitched in 10 days, was among the major league leaders in inducing ground ball outs, and got the start at homer-friendly Yankee Stadium.
Despite his struggles, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said, “I thought Dob threw the ball pretty well … he competed well.”
He became only the sixth pitcher to start a postseason game with no more than five previous starts, the Elias Sports Bureau said. Dobnak, undrafted out of Division II Alderson Broaddus, signed with the Twins in 2017 and started hit season at Class A Fort Myers.
On Twitter, he proudly mentions his 4.99/5 Uber driver rating. In fact, the daily press notes distributed by the Twins list other aspects of his past off-the-field résumé: Lyft driver and pizza delivery, among them.
Right after this game ended, Dobnak walked from the clubhouse and down a tunnel to the visiting family room, waiting a couple of minutes for his rooting section. When it took them a while to make their way through the stands, he returned to the locker room.
Despite the defeat, he appreciated the moment.
“I was really excited for it,” he said. “Pretty special.”
The Twins have a few players with postseason experience on their roster.
Sergio Romo has gotten the final out in a World Series and has three championship rings. Nelson Cruz has 17 career postseason home runs — and also has misplayed a fly ball that should have ended a World Series. Marwin Gonzalez hit what is considered the biggest home run in Houston’s postseason history.
But as Cody Stashak jogged in from the bullpen to pitch the sixth inning in Game 1 against the Yankees on Friday, the opposite end of that spectrum could not be ignored.
Stashak is one of five players — the others being Dobnak, Luis Arraez, Brusdar Graterol and Devin Smeltzer — on the Twins postseason roster who made their major league debut during the season. Two others, Jake Cave and Zack Littell, debuted last season. All have played in the ALDS as the series moves to Minnesota.
They wouldn’t be on the roster if they hadn’t earned it. At the same time, it seems like a lot of fresh faces being exposed to October baseball at once.
“You look at the guys we have had all year, all of those guys have stepped up in different ways,” Twins Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said. “We were just talking about Luis Arraez. He’s felt like a veteran from about day three of when he was in the big leagues. We’re a young team, we know that. We’re a growing team, getting better. But we have a lot of good veteran leadership and a lot of mentors on this team that help those guys feel very comfortable in this environment.”
An MLB Network high
Friday’s Game 1 was the second most-watched telecast in MLB Network history. It peaked with 4.4 million viewers from 8:15-8:30 p.m. Central time and was the most-watched cable network in prime time Friday, according to Nielsen overnight ratings.
The Associated Press and Star Tribune staff writer Phil Miller contributed to this report.