In the movie, Randy Dobnak would walk off the mound a winner, helping the Twins snap their postseason drought, adding another layer to his already incredible story.
Reality played out differently.
Dobnak, the Uber-driving undrafted former Division II college player who started the season at Single-A, couldn’t record an out in the third inning of his first-ever playoff outing. He was no match for the Yankees and neither were the Twins, losing their 15th straight playoff game, 8-2, in front of a raucous Bronx crowd that derisively chanted “Uber driver, Uber driver,” at Dobnak.
“I figured that was going to happen before the game,” he said with a smile. “I talked to the bullpen catcher [and asked him], ‘How many Uber chants are we going to get tonight?’ It doesn’t bother me.”
Dobnak allowed a run in the first and escaped a two-out rally in the second, but after the first three Yankees reached in the third, he was lifted. His replacement, Tyler Duffey, added kerosene to the fire, failing to get out of the frame himself as the Twins fell in a 2-0 hole in this American League Division Series.
By the end of the inning, the Yankees had an eight-run lead and Dobnak’s ERA was 18.00, far higher than his impressive 4.9 Uber rating.
“My command just wasn’t there,” he said. “My sinker was staying up and they were getting to it pretty hard.”
But the fact that Dobnak was even on the mound was impressive in its own right. Just over two years ago, he was pitching for the Utica Unicorns of the independent United Shore Professional Baseball League (USPBL) in Michigan, shortly after going undrafted and graduating from obscure Division II school, Alderson Broaddus University, in Philippi, W.Va.
Then, over a course of 48 hours, his life changed.
The Twins were in need of a starting pitcher in the lower levels of their minor league system and Dobnak came highly recommended. Jim Essian, a one-time Cubs manager who was managing Dobnak in the independent league, raved about him. So did Justin Orenduff, the USPBL’s director of operations and a former first-round pick of the Dodgers. But longtime Twins scout Billy Milos, who oversees the independent leagues for them, didn’t have time to see Dobnak pitch.
YouTube, however, had video of some of his outings and Milos started there. After a thorough background check and dozens of phone calls, they opted to sign him.
“It was a 48-hour assessment, just digging, working around the clock,” the scout said.
Just over two years after he signed for $2,000, Dobnak toed the rubber Saturday on the Yankee Stadium mound. Through it all, the 24-year-old right-hander with glasses and the thick horseshoe mustache has been an Uber driver with a 4.99 rating to make ends meet.
“He’s about as unique a story as you’re going to find,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “It’s been fun to watch him.”
His latest outing wasn’t as much fun. But it’s been a thrill-ride of a year for Dobnak. He got married last weekend and over 28 ¹/₃ innings in the regular season with the Twins, allowed just one home run, a nod to a heavy one-seam sinker, and pitching to a 1.59 ERA.
He hit a Yankees-sized speed bump Saturday. The fairy-tale had to take a detour somewhere.