On a freezing Friday afternoon, on a day many students curled up and enjoyed cancelled morning classes, starting pitcher Bryce Jarvis tossed the best pitching performance in Duke history.
In an 8-0 win against Cornell, Jarvis became just the 18th pitcher in NCAA history and the first Blue Devil to record a perfect game across nine innings. Jarvis knew he was throwing something special before he even took the mound, but between the snow and cold, and with pitch counts and scoring concerns looming, a complete game was never forward in his thoughts.
“I wouldn’t even say [this is always] in the back of my mind,” said Jarvis. “Tonight, in the bullpen before the game, I felt all my stuff working, and I turned to [pitching coach Dusty] Blake, and I said, ‘I feel like it’s going to be a good day’… I wouldn’t say I was nervous about the run support, [and] I wasn’t going to let [head coach Chris Pollard pull me because of pitch count]. I’ve gone deep into pitch counts before. I pride myself on my ability to stay recovered, and stay at a level that I need to be to go back out there. I was going to go until I couldn’t anymore.”
It only took Jarvis 94 pitches to retire 27 futile Cornell attempts to get on base. Between 15 strikeouts, 10 groundouts and two flyouts, he completely baffled the Big Red batters. It was certainly a more impressive outing than Jarvis' previous career-long scoreless start, an eight-inning blanking of West Virginia last summer.
Heck, it even bested his father’s greatest outing.
“I threw a one-hitter against North Carolina when I pitched for Wake Forest,” said Kevin Jarvis, Bryce’s dad and a former major-leaguer. “And he just outdid me. He just one-upped me.”
Jarvis' lifetime achievement got etched into family lore, as Kevin and Elizabeth Jarvis watched from the stands as their son reached new heights.
But no matter how much a pitcher is dealing on a given day, nobody pitches alone. At the end of the day, Bryce couldn't have done it without some help from his teammates.
“[Catcher Michael] Rothenberg just gives every pitcher on our staff such a peace of mind,” said Jarvis. “He’s going to block balls, he’s going to [frame] balls. There were probably three or four strikes in big spots tonight that I don’t get without him. And I told him that after the game, ‘This doesn’t happen without you.’ This doesn’t happen without plays being made behind me; it’s a team effort for sure.”
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Any number of things could have derailed this evening: a teardrop over an outstretched infielder, a dropped strike three, a blown call at first or a foul ball that just didn't slice out enough. For 94 pitches, across two hours and eight minutes, the universe needed to ensure that no minor detail went awry. Not a single pitch that left Jarvis’ hand could be an undoable mistake.
"I wanted to leave him alone [between innings],” said a beaming Pollard. “I didn’t want to get in the middle of it and mess it up. I just wanted him to keep doing what he was doing…it was just fun to sit back and watch. There’s not a lot of coaching that goes on in an outing like that; you just pat him on the back and tell him ‘good job’ and keep doing it.”
Baseball in all its beauty was on display this Friday afternoon. Beneath the Durham sunset, under cover of the melting snow, with Pollard terrified of the possibility of a Saturday doubleheader, Bryce Jarvis took the mound with 45 games and 127-plus innings of college baseball experience under his belt. His job was to end this outing better than he did the last. After all, that’s what every pitcher tries to do. A win would have accomplished that feat.
Instead he flirted with perfection until perfection had no choice but to give in. He struck out 11 of the last 15 Big Red hitters to stand up to him, before hearing the most deafening called strike three in Duke baseball history, screaming his lungs out and calmly tossing his glove 40 feet straight up in the air.
“They don’t call it a ‘perfect game’ for nothing,” said Kevin Jarvis. “The stars have to align.”