PITTSBURGH – Randy Dobnak used to park his car and walk over the Roberto Clemente Bridge to watch Pirates games. On Wednesday, he walked over the bridge from the team hotel.
“As soon as I walked out of the hotel, I was like, ‘There it is,’ ” Dobnak said. “It’s definitely different. I had to wait for traffic to cross the street.”
Fortunately for the Steel City, its native son, Dobnak, returned Wednesday to pitch at PNC Park.
That guaranteed the Pirates would have some television ratings on a night when the Penguins appeared in the NHL playoffs.
Fortunately for the Twins, Dobnak was in a Minnesota uniform. And the ground ball-inducing maven was at his best as he crafted six shutout innings to help his team top the Pirates 5-2 for its sixth victory in a row. The Twins improved to 3-0 vs. Pittsburgh this week with one game left to play in the home-and-home series.
With a 10-2 record, the Twins have their best start through 12 games since moving to Minnesota in 1961. They have matched the franchise record set by the 1930 Washington Senators.
On Wednesday, Dobnak needed only 71 pitches to quiet the Pirates for six innings. He gave up a first-inning infield single to Josh Bell, then promptly retired the next eight batters.
Dobnak threw 19 pitches in the first inning, then never more than 12 in any other frame. He threw 11 in the fourth, only nine in the fifth and only eight in the sixth. Pittsburgh batters made 10 ground-ball outs, a reflection of the effectiveness of Dobnak’s sinking fastball.
“He’s composed every time I’ve ever watched him pitch, every conversation I’ve ever had with him,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I don’t know what’s going on inside his head or in his body or anything like that, but he’s a pretty smooth, cool customer pretty much regardless of what he’s doing.”
Dobnak was born in South Park, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh. The opportunity for him to pitch at home has been tempered by the coronavirus pandemic. He would have had 200 friends and family members at PNC Park on Wednesday if fans were allowed into stadiums, but they were not.
The impact of that hit home as Dobnak rocked and fired his first pitch. The historic Clemente Bridge, easily visible from most of the stadium, is shut down to allow for pedestrians crossing the Allegheny River on game nights. On Wednesday, with no fan foot traffic, motor vehicles buzzed across the bridge as the game commenced.
The Twins gave Dobnak a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a run-scoring bloop single down the left-field line by Marwin Gonzalez that needed replay to overturn the initial ruling of a foul ball. Dobnak ended up in a battle with Pittsburgh righthander Travis Williams. The game was settled by the bullpens.
Gonzalez added another RBI single in the ninth to give the Twins a 2-0 lead before Max Kepler followed with a three-run homer. Rookie reliever Jorge Alcala gave up a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth, but the Twins won and Dobnak started sifting through congratulatory messages.
“I’m sure there’s going to be about 200-plus of text messages and Facebook notifications, Instagram and all that stuff,” he said. “I’ll probably be up a few hours looking at that stuff.”