The feel-good story of the Uber driver-turned-big league pitcher came to a screeching halt Saturday when the New York Yankees tagged him from the get-go in an 8-2 rout, putting Minnesota in a serious jam down 0-2 in the American League Division Series.
“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, Aerial, 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 backstory.
Then the Yankees geared up. Quickly, they drove Dobnak out of the game.
“Throttle down,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said later.
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 none out 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 a surprise choice over All-Star Jake Odorizzi (15-7, 3.51 ERA) to throw a day after New York romped 10-4 in the opener. His success at inducing grounders at homer-friendly Yankee Stadium helped get him the nod.
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli thought Dobnak’s demeanor would work, too.
“He’s about as unique a story as you’re going to find, and in a way, probably that whole story and everything that goes along with it is probably what’s made him who he is and what’s allowed him to take this journey and find his way to the big leagues,” Baldelli said before the game.
His postgame assessment: “I thought Dob threw the ball pretty well … he competed well.”
Dobnak made his major league debut in August and kept excelling, going 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in nine games, including five starts. Featuring a funky delivery, he struck out 23 and walked five in 28⅓ innings. He became only the sixth pitcher to start a postseason game with no more than five previous starts, the Elias Sports Bureau said.
It was a most unlikely ascent.
Undrafted out of Division II Alderson Broaddus University in West Virginia, he played for the Utica Unicorns of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League. He signed with the Twins in the summer of 2017 and spent last year in Class A.
Dobnak began this season in Class A, climbed to Double-A and Triple-A, and eventually got the call from Minnesota.
Along the way, his lore grew. Trying to earn extra money while in the minors, he took a different road.
On Twitter, he proudly mentions his 4.99 (out of 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.
“I had no idea his history was so vivid and kind of well explored, if you will,” said Odorizzi, who is slated to start Game 3 on Monday at Target Field in the best-of-five series.
More than two years ago, Dobnak and his future wife set the date for their wedding — Sept. 28, 2019. No way he imagined back then he’d be pitching for the AL Central champs.
Dobnak nonetheless got permission from Baldelli to attend his own wedding. When Dobnak walked into the reception with 250 guests, he wore the same oversized goggles he sported during the bubbly-soaked clubhouse celebration after Minnesota clinched the division crown earlier in the week. The maid of honor’s speech ended with “Go Twins!”
Right after Saturday’s game ended, Dobnak walked from the clubhouse and down a tunnel to the visiting family room, waiting a couple 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 said he appreciated the moment.
“I was really excited for it,” he said. “Pretty special.”