NEW YORK — Let’s make one thing clear. There was no ideal choice to start for the Twins on Saturday evening in Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees. Not after the bullpen imploded in a six-run defeat in Game 1.
Jose Berrios, who like it or not is the Twins’ ace, had started the opener and now manager Rocco Baldelli was down to two choices. Veteran Jake Odorizzi or rookie Randy Dobnak, one of the feel-good stories of the 2019 Major League season. Dobnak had gone from being an Uber driver and playing independent league baseball to spending this summer ascending from Single-A in the Twins’ farm system all the way to the big-league club.
The Twins weighed their options after Friday’s loss and decided to go with the kid. Dobnak had seen relievers Zack Littell and Cody Stashak wilt under the pressure of pitching in Yankee Stadium on Friday and said he looked forward to hearing the abuse New York fans would hurl his way.
It didn’t take long as fans serenaded him with chants of “Uber,” and “Uber driver.” Did it bother Dobnak? That was hard to say. What was obvious was the Yankees’ bats were too much for him in what became an 8-2 New York victory and gave the Yankees a commanding 2-0 lead in this best-of-five series.
Yankees fans chant "Uber" at Twins pitcher Randy Dobnak.
Dobnak was an Uber driver in the minor leagues as a way to make some extra money.pic.twitter.com/WuyARMpZMB
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 5, 2019
Dobnak departed with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the third inning. Tyler Duffey entered in relief for the second consecutive evening and after getting Giancarlo Stanton to hit a sacrifice fly to center (that gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead), he gave up an 0-2 RBI single to Gleyber Torres, hit Gary Sanchez with an 0-2 pitch to load the bases and then saw Didi Gregorious unload them with a home run to right field on a 94-mile-per-hour four-seam fastball.
The Yankees scored seven runs in the inning and led 8-0 after three. Donbak’s final line: Two innings, four runs, six hits and two walks. Duffey’s final line: two-thirds of an inning, four runs, two hits, one walk and one strikeout.
The remainder of the evening carried about as much significance as the second half of the 2017 NFC title game in Philadelphia. It was only played because it had to be and it mattered little that a variety of Twins relievers gave up no more runs.
The Twins’ postseason losing streak was extended to 15 games (they set the record at 14 on Friday), including 12 in a row against the Yankees. The Twins are now 2-15 all-time in playoff games against the Yankees and are one game away from losing a fifth postseason series to New York. It’s six if you want to include the 2017 wild card game. The Twins’ season could come to an end Monday night at Target Field when the Yankees can sweep a third consecutive ALDS from Minnesota.
It will be up to Odorizzi to start that from happening. No matter how cool, calm and collected you felt Dobnak was, or no matter how much you liked his facial hair and goggles look, asking him to take the ball on Saturday seemed like a lot. This offers me an opportunity to amend one thing I said before this series began.
My assumption was that the presence of guys like Nelson Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez would give these Twins a newfound confidence that previous teams (2003, ’04, ’09 and ’10) lacked when entering Yankee Stadium. That foolishly failed to take into account one very important thing. When you are the guy standing in the middle of the diamond holding that little pill with 49,000 fans screaming at you and a guy like Judge or Gregorius in the batter’s box, there is no way that Cruz or Gonzalez’s presence can help you.
Dobnak is 24 years old and this was his 10th big-league appearance. Baldelli acknowledged before the game that this decision was partially based on the fact that Dobnak was a ground ball pitcher and Odorizzi has a tendency to give up fly balls. Odorizzi also had a 5.40 ERA in nine career games and eight starts in Yankee Stadium and gave up nine runs and 10 hits in four innings of a 10-7 loss in July to the Yankees at Target Field. All of those things were factors.
Still, the feeling was that the Twins could not go down 2-0 in this series and especially without putting up a fight. This game was too important. One had to wonder if Baldelli understood this. Baldelli was asked a question beforehand about the decision to go with Dobnak over Odorizzi, especially with how much was riding on this game.
“I don’t think of this game as any different than any game that we’ve played,” Baldelli said. “I don’t think, even in the five-game series, that there’s any added emphasis on today’s game. Every game is important. It doesn’t change the importance based on what happened in the previous game until you’re down to the last game and both teams know that they have to win that game, it’s not going to change the way that we’re really going to operate with our personnel.”
Considering the Twins won 101 games and the American League Central this season in Baldelli’s first season as a manager, it’s difficult to argue with his approach. But one thing these Twins, including chief baseball officer Derek Falvey and general manager Thad Levine, have done an excellent job of this season is mixing analytics with an ability to judge their players.
Having seen what happened to Littell and Stashak on Friday, it was hard to buy into the fact Dobnak would be just fine no matter how big of game he talked or how many ground balls he had induced. Odorizzi also might have been hit hard, but it would have made more sense to put the veteran out there and hope for the best as opposed to a rookie.
Baldelli didn’t do that in part because he didn’t want to put too much importance on Game 2. That was a mistake. The Twins now return home with their season on the line and, hopefully, a sense of urgency. Unfortunately, it appears to be too late.