NEW YORK -- Two years ago, when 24-year-old rookie Randy Dobnak pitched in the little-known United Shore Professional Baseball League in the suburbs of Detroit, the league wouldn’t even sell tickets to some of the games, instead hosting contests in an empty 4,500-seat stadium. Last offseason, he drove for Uber, and he boasts of his 4.99 rating.
Oh, and he also got married last Saturday.
One week after tying the knot, he’ll pitch at a sold-out Yankee Stadium as the Twins’ starter in Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Saturday, as announced by Twins manager Rocco Baldelli following Minnesota’s 10-4 loss in Game 1 on Friday night. All-Star right-hander Jake Odorizzi will take the mound for Game 3 at Target Field.
“It's been the most amazing week of my life for sure,” Dobnak said. “Getting married, clinching the game, now the postseason start. It doesn't get any better than this."
Dobnak began the season at Class A Advanced Fort Myers and said that, thinking back to Opening Day, his best-case scenario might have been finishing the year at Double-A Pensacola. But after Dobnak rapidly ascended all the way to the Major Leagues and posted a 1.59 ERA in nine appearances for the Twins this season, Minnesota will trust that the right-hander’s heavy sinker will nullify the Yankees’ potent offense in the Bronx.
"I don't know if it's really sunk in, or if it ever will, but I'm really excited for all the opportunities that have come my way this year,” Dobnak said. “Two years ago, getting the chance out of indy ball, even getting the chance to play indy ball, that's something that a lot of people don't get the chance to do. Everything that's happened to me is something that I never would have thought of."
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli cited Dobnak's 52.9 percent ground-ball rate as weighing heavily in his decision to go with him over Odorizzi, who had a 35 percent ground-ball rate during the regular season. As evidenced throughout the history of the ballpark, as well as in Game 1, when five homers were hit, Yankee Stadium is hitter-friendly, making it critical to keep the ball on the ground.
Dobnak has allowed only one home run in 28 1/3 innings in the Major Leagues.
“Having that, for me, will be nice," Dobnak said. "Just to keep the ball on the ground instead of having to care like some guys because they live up in the zone. If you miss anywhere, they're going to crush it. I think for me, I'll definitely have an advantage having the sinker and living down in the zone. I think that will help."
Dobnak first pitched out of the Twins’ bullpen this season before he served as an opener in two games and then made three more traditional starts in September, holding the Indians, Tigers and Royals to two earned runs in 16 1/3 innings.
Even without a roaring crowd of 49,000-plus at Yankee Stadium to intimidate him fewer than 10 starts into his Major League career, Dobnak will have enough pressure given the circumstances. The Twins dipped into their bullpen for four innings on Friday after a four-inning start from José Berríos. Dobnak’s outing could make the difference between the Twins going back to Target Field tied 1-1 in the series or facing an 0-2 hole.
He stressed on Friday night that he has his ways of blocking out the crowd noise and pressure and is “110 percent confident,” even in such a pressure cooker of an environment.
“I'm going to be the same person I'm always going to be, and it's a very strange person,” Dobnak said.
He plans to over-hydrate before he goes to bed -- as he always does before a start -- wake up early, because he doesn’t want to be groggy, and hunt around his hotel for breakfast. And then, he’ll pitch on the biggest stage of his life.
The former Uber driver with the white pitching glasses and bushy mustache -- grown on a whim -- sat in the Twins’ dugout on Friday night, taking in the atmosphere and readying himself for the scene on Saturday.
Did he pick up any secrets to success from watching the crowd and the Yankees’ hitters on Friday night?
"I'm not going to reveal my secrets,” he said with a cryptic smile.